Premier League 2
Swansea City 1 (Cooper 42) Arsenal 1 (Gilmour 78)
Charlie Gilmour is one of those players who simply refuses to give in regardless of the circumstances, and it was the midfielder that came to the rescue for Arsenal U23s tonight as they extended their unbeaten league run to eight games with a hard-fought draw away to Swansea City.
Arsenal, who included Ainsley Maitland-Niles in their starting lineup, found matters rather difficult in the first half and fell behind just before the break when Brandon Cooper scrambled the ball over the line.
The young Gunners improved significantly in the second half, however, with Gilmour’s deflected effort earning them a point and by the end Freddie Ljungberg’s side were frustrated that they couldn’t secure a victory.
With Arsenal in the midst of a hectic run of fixtures, Ljungberg made six alterations to his team. Zech Medley, Dominic Thompson, Matt Smith, Trae Coyle, Gilmour and Maitland-Niles started in place of Joseph Olowu, Tolaji Bola, Robbie Burton, Tyreece John-Jules, Tobi Omole and Bukayo Saka.
Meanwhile, Ben Sheaf and Cohen Bramall returned from injuries to make the bench.
Subs: Sheaf (for Ballard, 46), Saka (for Maitland-Niles, 68), Tormey (for Coyle, 80). Not used: Okonkwo, Bramall.
Swansea went into the game having not won in the league this season, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from their first half performance, with the hosts making matters considerably difficult for Arsenal’s rather cobbled together side.
The opening period was rather uneventful, with Arsenal frequently attempting to play the ball out from the back, often involving Medley, only for Swansea to put them under intense pressure.
Arsenal goalkeeper Deyan Iliev had to be alert to keep Swansea at bay on a couple of occasions, but the Macedonian almost gave away a goal himself on one occasion with a wayward pass.
Ljungberg’s team were struggling to assert themselves as an attacking force, with Nketiah working hard up front yet remaining rather isolated.
The creativity of a player such as Emile Smith Rowe or Burton was sorely missed as moves frequently broke down, but Swansea deserved much credit for their energetic approach.
Eventually Swansea managed to take the lead, with Cooper guiding the ball over the line from close range following a corner.
Arsenal sought to respond, with Daniel Ballard heading wide, but it was Swansea who went into the break in the ascendancy.
The Arsenal first-team have developed a reputation for improving in the second half of games, and that could be said of the U23s on this occasion as they started to perform with greater fluidity.
Sheaf replaced Ballard at the start of the second half and the centre-back helped Arsenal to be calmer in possession as he played some slick passes.
At long last Arsenal started to ask questions of Swansea’s defence, with Coyle weaving his way through prior to having a shot saved and Nketiah, desperate to score after failing to do so against Everton, seeing his effort deflected wide after impressive approach play from Maitland-Niles.
Gilmour then headed wide from Maitland-Niles’ free-kick before Sheaf had to make an important intervention at the other end to prevent Swansea from adding to their lead.
Maitland-Niles was withdrawn in the 67th minute, enabling the lively Bukayo Saka to enter the fray.
It certainly wasn’t a vintage display from Maitland-Niles, who looked rather rusty, but that was to be expected given that he hasn’t played for over two months and the important aspect for the England U21 international was that he gained some valuable playing time while further building up his fitness.
Saka’s introduction provided Arsenal with a much-needed injection of pace and flair, and he immediately shot over.
Arsenal looked like scoring and in the 78th minute they did, albeit with a touch of fortune, with Gilmour’s effort being deflected in. Olayinka deserves much credit for his sterling work in the build up.
Then Nathan Tormey, who has been so unfortunate with injuries in recent years, entered the fray for his competitive U23s debut. The winger was placed on free-kick duties and sent an effort wide as Arsenal looked to win the game.
Arsenal continued to push forwards but time eventually ran out and, for the second time this week, they had to settle for a point.
Temporarily at least, Ljungberg’s side are top of Premier League 2, although they have played a game more than Everton, who aren’t in action until the weekend.
Ljungberg will undoubtedly be pleased with the improvements that Arsenal showed in the second half, although Swansea’s lead at half-time could well have been significantly larger.
Next up for Arsenal is a clash against Cheltenham Town on Tuesday in the Checkatrade Trophy, with an U23s game at home to Chelsea to follow next weekend. Some of these players will be aiming to be involved for the first-team in some capacity against Blackpool in the Carabao Cup in midweek, although Unai Emery has so far selected very strong squads for cup games.