U21 Premier League
Arsenal 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park
Arsenal U21s dropped points in their promotion push as they were held to a 1-1 draw this evening by a resilient Wolverhampton Wanderers side at Meadow Park.
The young Gunners started slowly but took the lead through the supremely talented Donyell Malen, only to side their advantage cancelled out almost immediately when Tommy Rowe’s effort deflected in off Stefan O’Connor.
Wolves, who were able to call upon several senior players, were the better side for most of the game, but Arsenal rallied in the closing stages and came close to securing a win when substitute Stephy Mavididi’s effort rattled the crossbar late on.
Arsenal were without the suspended Dan Crowley, whilst Jeff Reine-Adelaide was also unavailable. There was some positive team news, however, with defenders Tafari Moore and Stefan O’Connor returning from injury, the latter making his first appearance since returning from a loan spell at York City.
Krystian Bielik and Ismael Bennacer were left out of the starting line-up with Friday’s FA Youth Cup tie against Liverpool in mind.
Subs: Keto, Da Graca, Bennacer (for Hinds, 63), Bielik (for McGuane, 67), Mavididi (for Malen, 78).
Wolves have struggled for form at U21 level this season, but named a stronger line-up than usual, with England youth international Kourtney Hause featuring.
Arsenal goalkeeper Ryan Huddart was frequently called into action in the opening stages and was responsible for preventing his side from falling behind.
Arsenal’s first attempt was a wayward one, as schoolboy Reiss Nelson shot over, but they took the lead shortly afterwards courtesy of a considerably more measured effort from Malen, who surged forward before finishing superbly for his fourth goal at this level.
The Arsenal players had barely finished celebrating when they were forced to start from scratch. Wolves caught them off guard, with Rowe’s effort deflecting in off O’Connor and deceiving Huddart.
Arsenal sought to respond, with Malen finding Nelson, but the latter’s radar was off kilter again as he rather snatched at his effort and shot over.
Wolves finished the half strongly, however, as they had two attempts just before the interval.
Arsenal gradually started to assert themselves more after the break, with Kaylen Hinds and Chris Willock becoming increasingly influential.
Hinds had to help out in a defensive sense to head away a dangerous ball in, before Willock created an opportunity that Arsenal were unable to take advantage of.
A rather dour game suddenly came to life in the dying embers, with the bright Bright Enobakhare striking a post with a fierce effort.
That appeared to wake Arsenal from their slumber, with Sheaf having a tame shot saved following an audacious skilful manoeuvre before Mavididi, on for Malen, struck the crossbar.
In truth, though, Arsenal’s performance didn’t merit a victory and thoughts seemed to be focused on the Youth Cup tie with Liverpool rather than this encounter.
The point moves Arsenal up to second in the table and extends their unbeaten run to six games. Steve Gatting’s side are five points adrift of leaders Derby County with three games in hand, but, with Aston Villa just below them, the young Gunners can ill afford to drop many more points if they are to finally get into the top tier.