U21 Premier League
Arsenal 3 (Crowley (7), Mavididi (8), Gnabry (34) Newcastle United 1 (Bielik (24) (o.g.)
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Serge Gnabry all played a major part as Arsenal U21s took a potentially significant step towards promotion with a 3-1 triumph over their Newcastle United counterparts at Emirates Stadium tonight.
Gnabry was on the scoresheet along with Dan Crowley and Stephy Mavididi, whilst Rosicky played some excellent passes in his 45 minutes on the field, and Wilshere, making his first appearance of the season at any level, caught the eye and played 65 minutes.
Despite the fact that several players who participated in the FA Youth Cup tie with Manchester City on Monday didn’t feature in this game Arsenal were still able to field a strong line-up, with Matt Macey and Julio Pleguezuelo amongst those involved from the outset. In a late change to the squad Josh DaSilva made the bench instead of Donyell Malen.
Subs: Reine-Adelaide (for McGuane, 25), C. Willock (for Rosicky, 46), DaSilva (for Wilshere, 65). Not used: Pileas, Keto.
Arsenal burst out of the traps, with Gnabry quickly setting about tormenting Newcastle right-back Ben Kitchen, who endured a hellish time.
Gnabry did well to force a corner early on and then Rosicky saw his attempted pass cut out after combining well with Wilshere as Arsenal’s first-team trio started the game in impressive fashion.
It wasn’t long until the opening goal arrived, and after some fine build-up play involving Rosicky and Mavididi, Crowley showed excellent close control to edge into the areabefore finishing well to make it 1-0.
There was barely time to draw breath before Arsenal, who had started extremely well, doubled their advantage. This time it was Mavididi who got on the scoresheet, with the powerful striker driving forwards before slotting the ball into the back of the net with a calm finish.
For a while it was almost like the perfect Arsenal performance with a combination of slick passing and off the ball runs causing all manner of problems for the Newcastle defence.
Arsenal then had the ball in the net again through Mavididi, but the striker was flagged for offside.
The young Gunners then saw their momentum disrupted somewhat by the forced withdrawal of Marcus McGuane, who was replaced by Jeff Reine-Adelaide. The Frenchman doesn’t possess the natural defensive attributes of the England youth international, and, as a consequence, Arsenal’s midfield was rather more open than it had been previously.
Newcastle were quick to take advantage with Krystian Bielik inadvertently diverting a dangerous cross past Macey as Arsenal’s lead was cut in half.
The visitors came close to scoring again shortly afterwards, with Macey having to be alert to keep out a long range effort, but Arsenal’s quality still managed to shine through and before long the Gunners had the ball in the net at the other end after Reine-Adelaide’s precise pass found the on-running Gnabry, who finished adroitly.
The winger then turned provider for Mavididi, who lashed over when well placed, but, despite that miss, Arsenal still went into the break in the ascendancy.
Newcastle were able to call upon a senior player of their own in Sylvain Marveaux, but the 29-year-old was unable to exert the same sort of influence as Arsenal’s first-team players.
Rosicky was withdrawn at the break and replaced by Chris Willock, who was so impressive against City on Monday.
Wilshere, meanwhile, hadn’t been at the forefront of proceedings in the opening period, but, with Rosicky off the field, the 24-year-old seized the initiative as the driving force in Arsenal’s midfield and sent a powerful effort just wide.
Newcastle were still offering an intermittent threat to Macey’s goal, but the majority of the chances in the second period fell to Arsenal.
Willock, for instance, cut inside and shot wide after he was spotted by Wilshere before Mavididi squandered another good opportunity from a good position.
Wilshere, perhaps seeking to make an impact before his impending substitution, was becoming increasingly influential an teed up opportunities for Gnabry and Willock, neither of which resulted in goals.
DaSilva then entered the fray in place of Wilshere and demonstrated his impressive hold-up play, while Arsenal had further chances to put the game beyond doubt but they were unable to take them.
Arsenal still had some defending to do, with Ben Sheaf making an impressive clearance under pressure, but they managed to secure a victory that edges them closer to promotion.
With just three games remaining Arsenal are in second place in the table. They face two difficult away trips next week, however, against Derby County and Swansea City, which will likely go a long way towards determining their fate.
As far as tonight’s match is concerned, however, the performances of Wilshere, Rosicky and Gnabry were very encouraging indeed.