Premier League 2
Arsenal 1 (Johnson o.g. 32) Leicester City 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Calum Chambers impressed, playing 73 minutes on his return from injury, as Arsenal U23s continued their encouraging start to the season with a 1-0 victory at home to Leicester City tonight.
The young Gunners had to be patient to break down a well-organised and tactically astute Leicester side but eventually did so when Jordi Osei-Tutu, who was a constant attacking threat from right wing-back, sent in a teasing cross that Foxes defender Darnell Johnson inadvertently sent into his own net.
Arsenal had opportunities to extend their lead but for much of the second half they were focused on protecting their advantage as Leicester pushed forwards with regularity.
Ultimately Arsenal managed to prevail, with goalkeeper Matt Macey making some important stops, although there was one negative on the night for Steve Gatting’s side as captain Julio Pleguezuelo hobbled off with an injury having been the victim of some rash challenges.
Leicester adopted an aggressive approach, as evidenced by the fact that they ended the game with four players on yellow cards; cautions are normally something of a rarity at this level.
The game, though, was an excellent education for Arsenal’s youngsters in terms of how to deal with different types of challenges.
In addition this fixture was notable for the attendance of a group of Cologne supporters, who chanted “come on Leicester”.
Having fielded a back four in the past two U23 games, Arsenal switched to a back three for this fixture, with Chambers joining Marcus McGuane and Pleguezuelo in defence.
Nelson started despite featuring for the first-team yesterday, while Osei-Tutu and Josh Dasilva were deployed as wing-backs.
Osei Tutu-Willock-Reine Adelaide-Dasilva
Subs: T. Bola (for Pleguezuelo, 63), Dragomir (for Chambers, 73). Not used: Iliev, Gilmour, Fortune.
The early stages of the game were rather subdued, with Arsenal attempting to create openings only to be met by a Leicester side that closed them down at every possible moment.
It was Leicester who had the first chance of the game when George Thomas shot wide before Arsenal eventually managed to carve out an opportunity, which culminated in Jeff Reine-Adelaide shooting just wide.
Nelson, who wasn’t at his sharpest tonight and seemed tired having played several games recently, then sent an effort out of the ground, but Arsenal eventually managed to make the breakthrough.
Osei-Tutu is enjoying a breakthrough season for the U23s and, after excellent work in the build-up from Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah, the wing-back sent in a dangerous cross from which Johnson scored an own goal.
The goal led to the game becoming rather more open and Willock, who was very impressive in central midfield, almost found Nelson at the far post with a cross.
Nketiah, who was also one of Arsenal’s most impressive performers in the opening period, then did well to create space for himself before forcing a corner with a powerful effort.
Just before the break, though, Leicester provided Arsenal with a warning sign as Macey was forced to make an important intervention from a corner.
Arsenal started the second period very brightly and came close to doubling their advantage when Dasilva pushed forwards from left wing-back and sent the ball in towards Osei-Tutu, who shot just wide.
Nelson then sent a free-kick over before Arsenal were dealt a blow when Pleguezuelo, who hasn’t had much luck with injuries in recent seasons, had to be substituted after some heavy challenges.
Tolaji Bola entered the fray in place of Pleguezuelo, and the 18-year-old was called upon on several occasions in the closing stages.
Arsenal managed to create an opening when Nelson found Chuba Akpom, who dragged his effort wide, but from that point forwards Leicester looked most likely to score next.
Chambers exited to applause from the crowd and was replaced by Dragomir. The Romanian youth international is a very talented player but he isn’t renowned for his defensive qualities and, given that he was deployed at left wing-back Leicester looked to exploit him at every possible opportunity.
The Leicester pressure was relentless and at one stage Macey managed to prevent a goal by sheer luck as the ball hit off him.
Not long afterwards, however, the 23-year-old made a fantastic stop to preserve Arsenal’s lead and he was called upon again before the final whistle as Gatting’s team somehow managed to get through five minutes of additional time without conceding.
Arsenal’s youngsters will certainly have learnt a lot from this game, while Osei-Tutu can be pleased with his performance and Reine-Adelaide also produced one of his better displays.
Nketiah and Willock showed some encouraging signs and will hope to have done enough to feature for the first-team against Doncaster Rovers in the Carabao Cup next week.
It was a rare off night for Nelson but, in terms of the overall learning curve, this was a very important victory for Arsenal.