UEFA Youth League- Play off round
Anderlecht 2 Arsenal 0
Arsenal U19s suffered an early exit in the UEFA Youth League once again as they were eliminated by an impressive Anderlecht tie in the Play-off round in Belgium.
For all the creative talent at their disposal, Arsenal, especially in the second-half, struggled to create chances with regularity and were unable to impose themselves against well-organised opponents.
Both of Anderlecht’s goals came in the first-half, with Jorn Vancamp finding the net twice. Arsenal had to be reliant on goalkeeper Hugo Keto thereafter, with the Finnish youth international making some impressive saves to prevent the opposition from inflicting even more damage.
Arsenal lined up rather as expected, with Reiss Nelson and Donyell Malen restricted to places on the bench. Alex Iwobi, meanwhile, remained in London with the first-team squad.
Reine Adelaide-Crowley-C. Willock
Subs: Malen (for C. Willock, 46), Nelson (for Crowley, 46), Da Graca (for Johnson, 67). Not used: Huddart, Robinson, Mourgos, Dasilva.
Arsenal started brightly, with the ever lively Dan Crowley doing well to locate Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who failed to find the net.
Crowley then sent a free-kick wide as Arsenal looked to gain the upper hand but it wasn’t long until Anderlecht landed what would prove to be a crucial blow.
The Belgian side, against the run of play, opened the scoring in the eighth minute with Vancamp sending a towering header beyond the reach of Keto.
Keto then had to be alert to prevent Anderlecht from doubling their advantage almost instantly, but the hosts continued to probe and they eventually got their reward.
The second goal was the result of a finely worked move from Anderlecht, who played a series of intricate passes before Vancamp finished adroitly past Keto.
At one stage it seemed as if Anderlecht were going to run away with the game, with Julio Pleguezuelo having to race back and make a last ditch challenge to prevent his side from falling further behind.
Andries Jonker made a bold decision at the start of the second period as he replaced Crowley and Reine-Adelaide with Nelson and Malen.
Nelson was impressive on the ball, but Malen, deployed out wide for the most part, struggled to get into the game and Arsenal were unable to create many chances in the second half.
Indeed, the majority of the action occurred at the other end of the field, with Vancamp spurning an inviting opportunity to secure his hat-trick when he skewed his effort wide when well placed.
Nelson sought to bring Arsenal back into the game, but he was often crowded out by the well organised Anderlecht defence.
Keto had to make an excellent stop to deny Vancamp once more, but Arsenal didn’t really look like scoring in the closing stages as a campaign that started so encouragingly petered out in disappointing fashion.
There are some talented players in this group, but most of them were unable to showcase their respective talents today. Keto deserves credit for his display, but Arsenal were sluggish defensively, with Krystian Bielik’s disappointing performance lending further credence to claims that he shouldn’t be deployed at centre-back.
Arsenal could still end up with silverware at youth level this season, with the young Gunners taking on Coventry City in the FA Youth Cup next week, but tonight’s defeat, and in particular the meek nature of the way in which they surrendered, will rankle for some time to come.