Premier League 2
Arsenal 4 (Nketiah 12, 62, 77, Nelson 26) Everton 0
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park
Eddie Nketiah scored a hat-trick as Arsenal U23s produced another impressive team performance in a 4-0 thrashing of Everton at home tonight.
The young Gunners have been hugely impressive recently and this display saw their winning run across all competitions extended to five games, while they have gone eight matches without defeat.
Nketiah’s exploits will undoubtedly see him grab the majority of the headlines, but there was much more to admire about this Arsenal performance, with Reiss Nelson also getting on the scoresheet, while Konstantinos Mavropanos was assured at the back again and Jordi Osei-Tutu was composed at right-back.
Despite having to cope with temporary and permanent departures during the January transfer window, Arsenal still produced a cohesive display against a physical Everton side and are now just one point behind league leaders Liverpool.
Josh Dasilva was missing through illness, with Joe Willock, who captained the side, replacing him. The only other alterations saw Nketiah come in up front for John-Jules, and Rob Holding start at the expense of Zech Medley.
Osei Tutu-Mavropanos-Holding-T. Bola
Subs: John-Jules (for Amaechi, 73), Gilmour (for Smith Rowe, 81). Not used: Keto, Medley, Burton.
Arsenal were seeking to follow in the footsteps of the first-team by overcoming Everton and they sought an early goal, with Mavropanos playing an excellent searching pass into the path of Xavier Amaechi, who crossed for Vlad Dragomir, but the latter was unable to find the net.
Everton fielded Ramiro Funes Mori, who is returning from injury, in their side, as well as Jose Baxter, who has caused problems for Arsenal at this level in the past.
Arsenal, though, were dominant on this occasion and they threatened to open up the Everton defence again, with Nelson playing an incisive pass through to Nketiah, whose cross flashed across the face of goal.
After several minutes of pressure Arsenal eventually took the lead and it came as no surprise that Nketiah was the scorer, with the clinical striker finding the net from close range.
This was a physical game, with Everton aiming to stop Arsenal in their tracks at every possible opportunity, and, even though yellow cards are usually a rarity at this level, the Toffees ended up with four players cautioned.
Arsenal continued to battle on, though, with Amaechi having an effort saved before Holding headed over.
Dragomir’s shot was then saved by Mateusz Hewelt, but Arsenal soon managed to double their advantage as Nelson got the better of the Everton goalkeeper with a fine finish.
Anthony Evans had an effort saved by Deyan Iliev at the other end, but Arsenal went into the break with a two-goal lead.
There weren’t many chances for either side in the early stages of the second half, but Arsenal continued to play impressive dynamic football and could have added to their tally when Dragomir turned smartly, but his subsequent effort lacked conviction.
Nketiah made no mistake, however, when he made it 3-0 following good work in the build up from Nelson and Willock, with the latter completing a hat-trick of assists.
Everton, coached by David Unsworth, appeared to have accepted defeat at this stage and Arsenal took full advantage as they constantly pushed forwards, eager to inflict further misery on their opponents.
Dragomir was eager to get a goal but luck just wasn’t on his side, although he did pose a threat from set-pieces.
Tyreece John-Jules, who hit a brace against Sunderland, entered the fray in place of Amaechi and added to Arsenal’s attacking firepower.
It was Nketiah who got Arsenal’s fourth goal as he completed his hat-trick with another sharp finish, with Emile Smith Rowe providing the assist on this occasion.
Smith Rowe was then replaced by Charlie Gilmour and the midfielder, eager to make an impression, came close to finding the net with a fierce strike.
The damage had already been done, however, with Arsenal taking all three points and Nketiah taking the match ball.
In the corresponding fixture last season Everton thrashed Arsenal 5-0, but it was a markedly different outcome on this occasion, with Steve Gatting’s team producing another excellent display.
Winning the Premier League 2 title is a genuine possibility for Arsenal this season, but they do have some very tough games still to come, including encounters against Chelsea and league leaders Liverpool.
As far as the development of individual players is concerned, matters are going very well indeed, with the likes of Nketiah, Nelson, Willock and Mavropanos continuing to excel.
Beyond them, Dragomir, Osei-Tutu and Smith Rowe are staking claims for first-team involvement in some capacity next season, while an even younger crop of starlets, led by John-Jules and Amaechi, are starting to establish themselves in the U23s.
These are exciting times for the Arsenal academy, and, while there is no guarantee that any of these players will make the breakthrough, tonight was another significant step in the right direction for many of them.