Boreham Wood 3 Arsenal 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
An Arsenal U21 side that was deprived of many key players suffered a disappointing 3-0 defeat in a friendly against Boreham Wood today.
The young Gunners lacked cohesion and fell behind in the first-half before the hosts inflicted further punishment after the interval.
There were some plus points for Arsenal, with Donyell Malen catching the eye up front and substitutes Jordi Osei-Tutu and Nathan Tella impressing, but overall this was a hugely frustrating afternoon against a well-organised Boreham Wood side.
Krystian Bielik, Chris Willock, Stephy Mavididi, Matt Macey, Marcus McGuane, Gedion Zelalem, Reiss Nelson and Chiori Johnson have been training with the first-team during pre-season and they were all absent today, along with Kaylen Hinds, Ben Sheaf and Marc Bola.
As a consequence, Arsenal fielded a youthful and unbalanced line-up, with 16-year-old Joao Virginia starting in goal, Aaron Eyoma and Kostas Pileas deployed as full-backs and Savvas Mourgos and Joshua DaSilva fielded as wingers.
Subs: Robinson (for DaSilva, 62), Dragomir (for Nketiah, 64), Osei-Tutu (for Eyoma, 75), Tella (for Mourgos, 75). Not used: Keto, T. Bola, Smith-Rowe.
The system certainly didn’t work, with Arsenal struggling to muster any sort of attacking momentum for much of the game. The ball frequently went out of play, passes went astray and tackles were mis-timed, although such occurrences are perhaps to be expected at this early stage of pre-season.
Neither side managed to create much in the early exchanges, although Arsenal did come close to carving out an opening when Malen, playing in the number ten position, prodded the ball forward, but Edward Nketiah couldn’t reach it.
It was Boreham Wood, however, who would take the lead, with Joe Devera alert to head the ball beyond the reach of the stranded Virginia.
Conceding the goal did at least wake Arsenal from their slumber a little as they started to become slightly more composed on the ball. Ismael Bennacer, who impressed in his first season at the club, did well to regain possession and found Mourgos, who saw his attempt saved.
Arsenal’s attacking forays were sporadic, with Boreham Wood proving well organised for the most part. Nketiah, who scored in the friendly against Bournemouth last week, appeared Arsenal’s most likely source of a goal when opportunities did arrive, but he spurned two chances to find the net before the break.
Coach Steve Gatting opted against making any alterations at the interval, and the same pattern of play continued, with Boreham Wood dominating proceedings.
Virginia had to be alert to claim well from a free-kick, and then Gatting gradually started to ring the changes, with Tyrell Robinson and Vlad Dragomir entering the fray.
Those switches saw Malen moved up front following Nketiah’s withdrawal, and the Dutchman seemed far more suited to leading the line, as demonstrated by a memorable incident in which he turned astutely before forcing a good save from Sam Beasant.
Substitutes Jordi Osei-Tutu and Nathan Tella, who forged an encouraging partnership down the right flank, appeared lively and took the game to the opposition.
However, any hope that Arsenal had of securing a draw was eradicated as Boreham Wood doubled their advantage when Shaun Jeffers capitalised upon some dismal defending to slot home.
Worse was still to come for Arsenal, with Virginia and Pileas committing terrible errors in the build-up to a penalty being awarded, with Kenny Davis slotting home the spot-kick in what was the last meaningful action of the game.
This was a very disappointing performance, but perhaps the outcome wasn’t all that surprising given that such a large amount of players were missing.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the game was the performances of the two most experienced members of the side- Julio Pleguezuelo and Glen Kamara- who both struggled, with the latter appearing disinterested at times.
Neither player has trained with the first-team this summer, and they are both in need of loan spells to enhance their development.
It should also be taken into consideration that some of the players involved today featured in a friendly against Bayern Munich in Germany just two days ago, which may have contributed to their fatigue levels.
Furthermore, several of the players that started today can’t be considered to be amongst Arsenal’s best prospects, particularly with regards to the defenders.
Hopefully matters will improve from here, with Arsenal seeking to retain the Durban International Cup in South Africa.