Premier League 2
Arsenal 2 (Dragomir 48, Akpom 77) Sunderland 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Two players at very different stages in their development were on the scoresheet as Arsenal U23s eventually managed to break down a determined Sunderland side to prevail with a 2-0 victory at Emirates Stadium tonight.
After 45 minutes in which very little happened, the game sprung into life early in the second period when Vlad Dragomir scored his first ever goal at this level with a fine strike.
Chuba Akpom, who had provided the assist for Dragomir’s goal, later went on to find the net himself, with the 22-year-old getting his second strike of the campaign for the U23s.
Despite Sunderland showing a little more attacking intent in the closing stages Arsenal managed to hold on as they bounced back from the defeat that they suffered to Everton last time out, although the win was slightly besmirched by the injury suffered by Jeff Reine-Adelaide in the first half, with the Frenchman enduring yet another setback in his development.
Reine-Adelaide, rather unexpectedly, was deployed at left wing-back, with three other first-team players also involved in Mathieu Debuchy, Francis Coquelin and Akpom.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Matt Macey weren’t in the squad, perhaps with Thursday’s Europa League game against Red Star Belgrade in mind, although Ben Sheaf was named amongst the substitutes for the first time this season after recovering from a fractured vertebrae and goalkeeper Deyan Iliev made his first competitive appearance for the U23s since the 2014/15 season.
Osei Tutu-Coquelin-McGuane-Reine Adelaide
Subs: Sheaf (for Reine-Adelaide, 20), T. Bola (for Coquelin, 46), Medley (for Debuchy, 46). Not used: Virginia, Balogun.
Reine-Adelaide, having been out for several weeks through injury, seemed eager to impress early on and the Frenchman embarked on several dangerous runs down the left flank.
At the other end Iliev had to be alert to make a save from a header but it was Arsenal who created the majority of the chances in the opening period.
Marcus McGuane, who was very lively throughout, did well to find Akpom, who came close to scoring and then Debuchy had a goal disallowed.
Arsenal’s momentum was disrupted a little by the injury to Reine-Adelaide, but there was at least a positive to take from proceedings as he was replaced by Sheaf, who went on to produce an assured performance on his return to action.
Coquelin’s experience and energy helped Arsenal to dominate in midfield, while Debuchy, playing on the right side of the back three, was impressive.
Osei-Tutu, meanwhile, provided a frequent attacking threat as he galloped forwards from right wing-back and he had an effort saved in the closing stages of the first half.
Arsenal made a pre-planned double change at the start of the second half as Zech Medley and Tolaji Bola replaced Coquelin and Debuchy.
As a consequence, Josh Dasilva, who had started at centre-back and then moved to left wing-back, took up his third position of the game as he pushed forwards into central midfield.
Arsenal took the lead shortly after the restart when Dragomir found the top corner of the net with an unstoppable effort. The much-hyped Romanian youth international needs to gain more experience at this level and must perform with greater consistency in order to reach the top but this was a reminder of the undoubted quality that he possesses.
The young Gunners immediately grew in confidence and they had another chance to score when Bola darted down the left and his cross eventually found Dasilva, but the versatile starlet’s effort was deflected wide.
Sunderland threatened sporadically as Arsenal were repeatedly reminded that their lead was a slender one.
However, Arsenal squandered an excellent opportunity to double their advantage when Eddie Nketiah, who is usually so prolific, shot wide from close range following a mazy run by Sheaf.
Iliev then made an important stop to prevent Sunderland from equalising before Arsenal finally gained greater control of the game when Akpom finished well after a neat move.
Sunderland refused to give in and tested Iliev once more but the goalkeeper, not showing any signs of rustiness after so long out, was equal to everything that was asked of him.
Arsenal took all three points and now face intriguing fixtures away to Tottenham Hotspur and at home to Chelsea.
Sunderland may be the worst team in Premier League 2 according to the table but they made matters difficult for Arsenal at times tonight and coach Steve Gatting will be pleased that a defence that was altered on several occasions throughout the evening managed to keep a clean sheet, with Joseph Olowu and Medley both impressive.
Akpom, meanwhile, will hope that his contribution tonight won’t have gone unnoticed by Arsene Wenger.