Premier League 2
Arsenal 2 (Mourgos, Nketiah) Derby County 1 (Elsnik)
Chuba Akpom could have been forgiven for thinking he was watching his former self as the striker, having been withdrawn after playing 45 minutes on his return to action for Arsenal U23s against Derby County today, looked on as his replacement, the prolific Edward Nketiah, hit the winning goal at London Colney.
Akpom was once in Nketiah’s position – the highly regarded, bright young attacking prospect in Arsenal’s second-string side.
Now 21, however, Akpom no longer has quite as much time on his side to make the grade at Arsenal, and, after showing some encouraging signs on this occasion, the forward may be dispatched out on loan again before the closure of the transfer window.
As far as Nketiah is concerned, this season just keeps getting better and better. It may be a new year, but Nketiah is very much the same. Having found the net with regularity for the U18s he is now replicating that with the U23s and is also demonstrating that, in addition to his clinical nature in front of goal, he is able to hold the ball up effectively.
A case in point is his goal – the winning goal – which came in the 70th minute. The forward showed great strength to hold off his marker and then quickly exchanged passes with Savvas Mourgos (who was excellent on a rare start). Nketiah then, as he is so skilled at doing, raced towards goal and finished expertly before wheeling away in celebration.
It was a joyous occasion for Nketiah, but also for centre-back Joseph Olowu, with the first-year scholar making his debut at this level. Gedion Zelalem, Vlad Dragomir and Stephy Mavididi also started in a side that, while lacking some key players, was still strong.
Subs: Nketiah (for Akpom, 46), Malen (for Mourgos, 75). Not used: Virginia, Eyoma, DaSilva.
Arsenal signalled their attacking intent from the offset, with Ben Sheaf coming close to scoring with a free-kick.
That was a warning to the Derby defence, but the Rams were simply unable to cope when, with just seven minutes played, captain Ismael Bennacer slipped the ball through to Mourgos, who scored his first goal at this level.
It has been a hugely frustrating season for Mourgos so far. No longer eligible for the U18s, this was just his third appearance for the U23s this campaign, but, on this evidence, he should be getting much more game time.
Akpom almost marked his return to action with a goal but shot just wide and Mavididi then rattled the crossbar with a ferocious strike as the half drew to a close.
Derby looked determined to equalise in the second period, with Lewis Walker forcing an impressive stop from Arsenal goalkeeper Hugo Keto.
The visitors’ persistence eventually paid off as Timi-Max Elsnik got the better of Keto with an assured strike.
Arsenal, though, simply wouldn’t settle for a point, and, after Bennacer and Mourgos had been unable to find the net Nketiah eventually succeeded in doing so.
The young Gunners, who are now fifth in Premier League 2, face Southampton away in their next game.