Premier League 2
Arsenal U23s 1 (Akpom 67) Liverpool U23s 3 (Woodburn 13, 43, Gomes 72)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Arsenal U23s saw their disappointing start to the season continue as they were beaten 3-1 by Liverpool at Emirates Stadium tonight.
The young Gunners were inept defensively despite the return of Krystian Bielik, and they conceded twice in the first-half before Chuba Akpom reduced the deficit in the second period. However, Liverpool struck again shortly afterwards to condemn Arsenal to their third successive defeat of what has so far been a wretched campaign.
Arsenal named a strong side, with Akpom, Bielik and Jeff Reine-Adelaide all featuring. Ainsley Maitland-Niles moved across to right-back, whilst there was a maiden start at this level for the talented Vlad Dragomir.
There were also some notable inclusions in the Liverpool line-up, not least Lucas, who played 45 minutes at centre-back.
Maitland Niles-Bielik-Da Graca-Pileas
Subs: Keto, Mavididi (for Reine-Adelaide, 67), Johnson (for Bennacer, 67), Malen, DaSilva (for Maitland-Niles, 75).
Liverpool, who, like Arsenal, lost their first two games of the season, started brightly on this occasion, with full-backs Connor Randall and Trent Alexander-Arnold getting into good positions.
With 13 minutes gone Liverpool made their pressure count, with the prodigious Ben Woodburn applying the finishing touch to a swift, free-flowing move that was initiated by Lucas.
Arsenal’s defending was woeful, while the lack of a bonafide defensive-midfielder in the side was also laid bare.
Matters threatened to go from bad to worse for Arsenal when Bielik conceded an unnecessary foul on the edge of the penalty area. Liverpool captain Harry Wilson sent the subsequent set-piece over the crossbar, but Arsenal still had to be alert as their opponents pressurised them at every opportunity.
Liverpool’s second goal stemmed from an Arsenal mistake, with Kostas Pileas playing a woeful cross-field pass that was instantly intercepted. Woodburn again managed to find the net, with Bielik’s positioning questionable once more.
To sum up a dismal half for the Polish youth international he was then booked for a late challenge, with Arsenal going into the break two goals down.
Liverpool threatened again at the start of the second half, with Andre Wisdom, who played against the Gunners in the 2009 FA Youth Cup final, sending a header wide.
Macey then had to scramble across to avert the danger after another Bielik mistake, but Arsenal slowly started to make an impact at the other end of the field, with Willock playing a lofted ball into the path of Dragomir, who couldn’t find the target with his header.
Sheaf, Willock and Dragomir all had further efforts and Arsenal then levelled through Akpom, who was making his first appearance at this level since March 2015.
After good work in the build-up from Pileas and Willock, the striker swivelled and sent the ball into the back of the net via the crossbar.
Arsenal then made a double change, with Chiori Johnson and Stephy Mavididi replacing Ismael Bennacer and Reine-Adelaide.
Soon, though, the game was effectively over as a contest, with Toni Gomes taking full advantage after Matt Macey attempted and failed to punch the ball clear from a corner.
Dragomir and Johnson were booked late on as Arsenal’s frustration boiled over and, even at this early stage of the season, relegation is looking an increasingly likely prospect for the young Gunners.
The defence is the most pertinent problem, with Da Graca and Pileas clearly out of their depth at this level. Maitland-Niles certainly isn’t a right-back and Bielik delivered a disappointing performance tonight, with the suspicion remaining that he is more suited to playing in midfield.
There were a few encouraging signs going forward, with the likes of Sheaf, Dragomir and Willock showcasing their technical ability, whilst Reine-Adelaide made a few encouraging bursts in the first-half, but overall this was another disappointing night for Arsenal U23s.