Premier League 2
Arsenal U23s 0 Everton U23s 5
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park, Borehamwood
A heavily depleted Arsenal U23 side fell to a 5-0 defeat against a ruthless Everton team at Meadow Park tonight, with the young Gunners delivering an inept performance.
A whole host of players weren’t available to feature as they trained with the first-team today ahead of the EFL Cup fixture against Nottingham Forest, while Arsenal’s coach arrived late for the game against Everton, meaning there was limited time for a warm-up. Everton, meanwhile, have started the season extremely well and were able to call upon players such as Oumar Niasse and Tom Davies who boast Premier League experience.
Even in such circumstances, however, Arsenal’s performance was pitiful. Their defending (the hard-working Chiori Johnson aside) was woeful once again, while their approach play in midfield was non-existent, with Ismael Bennacer, one of the more experienced players in the team, struggling to keep possession.
Up front Edward Nketiah, who has been prolific for the U18s, worked hard but was starved of service, and, other than a brief period early in the second half, Arsenal posed very little threat to the Everton goal.
As noted, there were a horde of absentees, with Matt Macey, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Krystian Bielik, Chris Willock, Gedion Zelalem, Ben Sheaf, Stephy Mavididi, Marc Bola and Josh DaSilva all in contention to be involved with the first-team tomorrow night.
Steve Gatting called upon several members of the U18 squad, with Tolaji Bola, Reiss Nelson, Nketiah, Vlad Dragomir and Emile Smith-Rowe featuring, the latter becoming the first player to represent the club at this level who was born this millennium.
Gatting also gave a chance to Savvas Mourgos, while Tyrell Robinson was back on the bench after failing to secure a move away from the club during the transfer window.
Johnson-Da Graca-Pileas-T. Bola
Subs: Eyoma, Malen, McGuane. Not used: Robinson, Virginia.
It quickly became apparent that Everton were the stronger side, with the visitors calling Arsenal goalkeeper Hugo Keto into action very early on.
Keto’s next involvement was to pick the ball out of the net as Everton opened the scoring through Kieran Dowell, who slotted in with just four minutes gone.
Arsenal attempted to respond instantly, with Dragomir sending in a free-kick that couldn’t quite locate Nketiah. However, the Romanian was still able to win a corner and from a move that emanated from the subsequent set-piece Nketiah had an effort saved.
At the other end Niasse, the most experienced player on the pitch at the age of 26, twisted and turned before shooting over, and Keto then had to be alert to make a fine save to prevent Everton from doubling their advantage.
Everton continued to dominate as the half wore on and there appeared to be no cohesion about the Arsenal team, with Gatting’s side finding themselves overrun in midfield with alarming regularity.
Arsenal just about managed to keep the score down before the break but after the interval Everton finally made it 2-0, with Liam Walsh getting the better of Keto with a sweetly struck free-kick.
Dragomir then had a weak effort saved, but Everton continued to cause problems for the Arsenal defence and even the introduction of Donyell Malen couldn’t get Gatting’s side back in the game.
Keto made another fine stop, but he could do little to prevent Niasse from making it 3-0 shortly afterwards, with the forward finishing adroitly as Arsenal’s defence was torn apart yet again.
Then it was four, with substitute Calum Dyson heading in to inflict further damage upon the young Gunners shortly after his introduction.
Everton continued to press for more goals and hit the post with one effort before Dyson score again.
Nelson hammered an effort wide in frustration in the dying moments and relegation back to the second tier is looking an increasingly realistic possibility for this Arsenal side unless matters improve dramatically.
There were certainly mitigating circumstances tonight, but some of the more experienced players involved, Bennacer in particular, were disappointing, while several of the defenders are clearly out of their depth at this level.
Tomorrow night could well turn out to be a glorious occasion for Arsenal’s academy if several youngsters make their debuts, but the events this evening suggest that problems still exist within the set-up.
The lack of a bonafide defensive midfielder across the age groups is one of the most significant problems with the Arsenal youth system, while defensive issues, which were similar to those that were in evidence in the U18s’ defeat to Chelsea, were on show again.
Next up for Arsenal U23s is a trip to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, although it remains to be seen what type of side Gatting will be able to field in that fixture.