Premier League 2
Arsenal 1 (Gilmour) Swansea City 0
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
The title dream is still very much alive for Arsenal U23s, with Charlie Gilmour’s strike early in the second half seeing off Swansea City at Emirates Stadium tonight and, temporarily at least, sending the young Gunners top of Premier League 2.
There is still much work to be done if Arsenal are to be crowned champions – they are three points ahead of Leicester City, their closest challengers, but the Foxes have a game in hand as well as a superior goal difference, while Liverpool are also still in the hunt for the title.
Arsenal are doing all they can, however, to finish top and they managed to prevail tonight despite being without some important players.
Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah were again unavailable due to first-team commitments, while Konstantinos Mavropanos missed out through injury and Joe Willock also didn’t feature as he is likely to train with the senior side tomorrow.
Tyreece John-Jules wasn’t involved but there was some positive news as Emile Smith Rowe made an unexpectedly early return from injury to start. Joe Olowu and Folarin Balogun were also brought into the starting lineup.
Osei Tutu-Olowu-Medley-T. Bola
Subs: Keto (for Iliev, 22), Burton (for Smith Rowe, 60), Fortune (for Balogun, 81). Not used: Daley-Campbell, Coyle.
Despite both sides going into the game with a chance of winning the title, there was a lack of intensity in the opening stages.
Arsenal could be forgiven for being rather lethargic, with many of these players having featured in the epic Premier League International Cup semi-final win over Villarreal on Tuesday, which went to penalties.
Vlad Dragomir was deployed up front with Balogun out wide but on one occasion they swapped positions, with the Hale End product locating the Romanian with a precise cross, but the latter’s effort was blocked.
Smith Rowe was eager to impress after his injury layoff and he certainly succeeded in that regard as he posed a significant threat to the Swansea goal, seeing a low free-kick well saved on one occasion by Eriwn Mulder.
Josh Dasilva then had an effort saved as Arsenal upped the intensity but Swansea’s threat couldn’t be discounted, with Aaron Lewis rampaging forwards from right-back and finding the side netting.
The game was temporarily halted when Iliev was kicked in the face and, following lengthy treatment, the Arsenal goalkeeper had to be replaced by Hugo Keto.
Iliev needed several stitches but should be fit for Arsenal’s final league game away to West Ham United next week.
Dasilva had been rather subdued against Villarreal but the midfielder was more influential here and bamboozled the Swansea defence with a clever turn before his subsequent effort was saved by Mulder.
Swansea improved in the closing stages of the first half and Botti Biabi was dangerous, but a rather uneventful half ended goalless.
Arsenal knew that much improvement was needed in the second period if they were to secure what would be a potentially important victory.
There was an additional sense of purpose about Arsenal’s play in the early stages of the second period and in the 47th minute the decisive moment of the match occurred as Xavier Amaechi’s corner fell to Gilmour, who finished emphatically to open the scoring.
Gilmour has spent much of the season on the periphery of proceedings but he is now starting to demonstrate just what he is capable of at a crucial period in the season.
Arsenal could have doubled their advantage very quickly, with Amaechi again the provider, but this time Balogun’s effort was saved.
Amaechi, who was having a real influence on the game in the second half, then shot wide himself after Zech Medley unexpectedly burst into midfield.
Swansea, knowing their own title ambitions were fading, tried their utmost to level, with George Byers and Jack Evans both coming close, but Arsenal stood firm.
Smith Rowe was replaced by Robbie Burton in a pre-planned change, but Arsenal were fortunate not to concede when Jordi Osei-Tutu, who otherwise had an excellent game, gave the ball straight to Adnan Maric, with the Swansea number ten lashing his attempt wide.
Amaechi was full of confidence and forced a save from Mulder following an excellent run.
Swansea, though, still had hope of levelling and on one occasion Keto had to make an impressive reaction stop to preserve Arsenal’s lead.
Gilmour and Amaechi had further chances for Arsenal but the Swansea pressure continued, with Joe Olowu having to hack the ball away before Keto made another good stop.
After four minutes of added time, the whistle finally blew and Arsenal had secured three potentially vital points.
Leicester face Sunderland on Sunday and Arsenal will be intrigued to see what occurs in that game.
Liverpool can also still win the title but Arsenal have at least put themselves in a very good position to secure the second-string title.
Gilmour impressed again tonight, while Osei-Tutu pushed forwards well from right-back and Amaechi caught the eye.
The return of Smith Rowe, who was excellent, is another major boost as Arsenal look to secure three trophies at youth level, with the Premier League International Cup and the FA Youth Cup also up for grabs.