U23 Premier League
Arsenal 0 Southampton 0
Carl Jenkinson made his return to action as Arsenal U23s drew 0-0 with their Southampton counterparts in a hard-fought encounter.
Both sides created inviting opportunities but were unable to make the most of those chances on a night when defences and goalkeepers came out on top.
Krystian Bielik and Ben Sheaf were hugely impressive at the heart of the Arsenal defence, with the latter looking increasingly assured at centre-back. Meanwhile, Southampton had goalkeeper Alex McCarthy- a rather experienced individual in comparison to the other players on show- to thank for making some hugely impressive stops.
Arsenal’s approach play was encouraging at times, with the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Gedion Zelalem seeing plenty of the ball, while Stephy Mavididi and Edward Nketiah caused numerous problems for the Southampton defence, but the young Gunners were unable to make the breakthrough.
Nketiah was given a start ahead of Vlad Dragomir and Donyell Malen, while Chiori Johnson was named amongst the substitutes as a consequence of Jenkinson’s involvement, with the latter making his first Arsenal appearance in over two years.
Subs: Johnson (for Jenkinson, 68), Malen (for Bennacer, 71). Not used: Keto, Dragomir, DaSilva.
Both of these clubs have a pass and move philosophy, but neither team was able to create many opportunities of note in the early exchanges, with passages of play frequently breaking down at the final hurdle.
Maitland-Niles and Zelalem were at the hub of much of what was good about Arsenal’s approach play, but Southampton’s defence initially prevented Mavididi and Nketiah from being able to have much influence.
Southampton, who boast an impressive academy, started to pose a threat at the other end but Arsenal were able to deal with everything that Radhi Jaidi’s side threw at them.
As the half wore on Arsenal gradually started to have more of an influence on proceedings and they embarked upon one swift counter-attacking move but Southampton were able to clear before Nketiah could get his shot away.
Jenkinson then made his first forward foray of the game, with the right-back’s cross finding Chris Willock, who shot straight at McCarthy.
Mavididi then sent a powerful effort wide as Arsenal upped the ante, and, although Southampton had one chance at the other end, it was the young Gunners who were the dominant force as the first-half drew to a close.
Arsenal continued to pour forwards with regularity, and the pressure very nearly paid off, with Ismael Bennacer’s fierce effort rattling the woodwork before McCarthy made an impressive stop to thwart Willock.
The second half was slightly more even, with Southampton posing an increased attacking threat, and Macey did well to keep out Harrison Reed’s free-kick.
Arsenal, though, continued to carve out chances with regularity, with Nketiah having an effort saved from close range before Maitland-Niles blasted wide.
There were further chances to come, with Mavididi driving forwards only to see his attempt stopped by McCarthy, who was perhaps the game’s outstanding performer.
Jenkinson played 68 minutes before being replaced by Johnson, with Donyell Malen then entering the fray as Arsenal went in search of a late winner.
A goal proved elusive, however, and in the end Arsenal were perhaps pleased to settle for a point as Southampton missed some inviting late chances.
Overall, however, this wasn’t a bad result for Arsenal, whose build-up play was rather impressive at times.
There are certainly some impressive talents in this team and the decision to deploy Sheaf at centre-back ahead of Kristopher Da Graca has provided the side with greater defensive assurance.
Arsenal lacked ruthlessness at times and it was evident that several players in this side are still adapting to new positions, with Maitland-Niles playing deeper than usual, Bennacer deployed on the right wing and Mavididi operating as the number ten.
There are certainly positives to build upon, though, going into the next game, which sees Gatting’s team face Manchester United away.
As far as Jenkinson is concerned, the 24-year-old was largely impressive, and, although he was caught too far up-field on a couple of occasions, that can be attributed to an element of rustiness as he has been out for so long.