U21 Premier League- Division 2
Arsenal 4 (Nelson, Bielik, Mavididi, Bennacer) Brighton 1
This game received much media attention this week on account of the fact that Danny Welbeck was pencilled in to make his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt since April 2015.
The England international did indeed feature as he lead the line for 60 minutes before being substituted in a pre-planned change, but the main talking point instead focused on the performance of Reiss Nelson, who, at the age of just 16, scored one goal and set up two more in a comprehensive victory.
Nelson is still a schoolboy, yet, while many players of his age group are fretting about whether they will be kept on by their respective clubs, he is continuing to compile a body of evidence to suggest that he is capable of, at the very least, making a first-team appearance in the not too distant future.
Perhaps some perspective is needed; this game was, after all, against a Brighton & Hove Albion side that are bottom of the second tier of the U21 Premier League, whilst Arsenal, in contrast, are now at the summit of the division.
However, Nelson’s display, on just his second start at this level, was scintillating, and offers much hope for the future. The England youth international opened the scoring before laying on goals for Krystian Bielik and Stephy Mavididi, with the former finding the net for the first time since joining the club.
Ismael Bennacer inflicted further damage upon Brighton by scoring a superb free-kick, and, although the hosts scored a late consolation with a penalty, Arsenal were deserved winners.
Coach Steve Gatting made two alterations to the side that overcame Stoke City last weekend, with Welbeck and Nelson replacing Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Dan Crowley.
Da Graca-Bielik-Pleguezuelo-M. Bola
Subs: Huddart (for Macey, 46), Dasilva (for Welbeck, 60), Mourgos (for C. Willock, 81). Not used: Malen, Eyoma.
Arsenal pressurised their opponents immediately and they opened the scoring with just two minutes on the clock when Nelson seized upon a defensive error before finishing well for his first goal at this level.
Brighton simply couldn’t cope with Arsenal’s early attacking momentum, with Nelson coming close to doubling his tally shortly afterwards, only to fire just over on this occasion.
The second goal would soon arrive, however, and it came as no surprise that Nelson was heavily involved in proceedings as his corner was headed in by Bielik.
The victory was put beyond doubt as early as the 17th minute when Nelson played the ball into the path of Mavididi, who continued his excellent goalscoring form by finishing calmly.
Nelson continued to probe in the search of further openings but Brighton were provided with a lifeline at the other end when a push from Kristopher Da Graca on Jonah Ayunga led to the visitors being awarded a penalty.
They failed to make the most of the situation, however, with Matt Macey doing superbly to keep out Jack Harper’s penalty before the Brighton player blazed the rebound over the crossbar.
Despite missing the penalty, Brighton started to provide a greater attacking threat, but Macey again came to Arsenal’s rescue with an impressive save.
Macey was withdrawn at the interval, with Ryan Huddart entering the fray.
Arsenal’s dominance continued in the second period, but they struggled to create chances with as much regularity as they did in the first-half.
The first opportunity of note in the second half fell to Da Graca, but the defender could only fire over after he was located by Nelson.
Welbeck was then replaced by Joshua Dasilva on the hour mark but the game became something of a non-event for a spell as the difficult weather conditions meant that neither side was able to enjoy a lengthy spell of possession.
There was still time, though, for Arsenal to extend their advantage even further, with Bennacer curling a superb free-kick into the back of the net.
Brighton, to their credit, refused to give in and forced Huddart into a good save, with James Tilley then reducing the deficit from the penalty spot after Marcus McGuane committed a foul.
The last significant act of the game may have been a Brighton goal, but this was Arsenal’s, and, more specifically, Nelson’s game.