Premier League 2
Arsenal 5 Manchester City 1
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park, Borehamwood
There have been enough disappointing results for Arsenal U23s to endure this season, but there was much to be pleased about tonight, with Freddie Ljungberg’s side producing an excellent display as they thrashed Manchester City 5-1, while Konstantinos Mavropanos received a runout as he made his return from injury.
Bukayo Saka, who was again excellent, hit a brace, while Robbie Burton, Joe Willock and Xavier Amaechi also managed to get on the scoresheet. Willock in particular stood out, with the midfielder also providing two assists, indicating that he is worthy of more minutes with the first-team.
This was Arsenal’s first victory at this level since October 1st, and part of that may have been down to Ljungberg having a strong squad to choose from.
The Arsenal coach made four alterations to the team that drew with Brighton & Hove Albion as Jordi Osei-Tutu, Mavropanos, Willock and Nketiah came in for Joseph Olowu, Zech Medley, Dominic Thompson and Tyreece John-Jules.
Subs: Ballard (for Mavropanos, 71), Thompson (for Saka, 76), Balogun (for Amaechi, 87). Not used: Okonkwo, Zelalem.
Arsenal started the game in impressive fashion and they opened the scoring with just four minutes gone after Saka found the net with a calm finish.
Just six minutes later it was 2-0 with the lively Xavier Amaechi being fouled in the area and Robbie Burton stepping up to convert the subsequent spot-kick.
There was an element of concern for Arsenal shortly afterwards, with Mavropanos, who hadn’t played since August, having to receive treatment, but the first-team defender was thankfully able to continue.
Amaechi saw a free-kick saved as Arsenal looked to further extend their lead, but it wasn’t all one-way traffic with goalkeeper Deyan Iliev having to be alert at the other end to race off his line and make an impressive stop.
City threatened with a free-kick that went just wide, with Arsenal responding with an effort from their own as Julio Pleguezuelo, up from left-back, came close to scorng.
Arsenal’s first-half performance deserved another goal and they eventually managed to get it. Willock, fittingly, was the scorer, as he capped off an impressive 45 minutes with a slick finish.
If Arsenal thought that the game was over at that stage, they were quickly reminded after the interval that City still posed a threat.
Indeed, just a minute into the second half City reduced the deficit, with Luke Bolton slotting home after Ben Sheaf had initially lost possession. Iliev had made a smart save in the direct aftermath of Sheaf’s error but was unable to prevent Bolton from scoring.
That goal sparked Arsenal back into life, and they soon went 4-1 up, with Willock doing well to find Saka, who got his second goal of the game.
In the 66th minute it was 5-1, with Amaechi the scorer on this occasion after Nketiah teed him up, while Robbie Burton deserves credit for a fine pass in the build-up to the goal.
Mavropanos was then replaced by Daniel Ballard in the 71st minute in a pre-planned change, with the Greek defender having coped rather well overall, while showing some expected signs of rustiness.
City threatened intermittently in the closing stages, but Arsenal managed to stand firm and secured the three points, while second-year scholar Folarin Balogun received a run-out towards the end of the game.
This victory should do much to boost the confidence of Ljungberg’s team, who have struggled in many of their recent fixtures.
At times Ljungberg has found it difficult to get his tactical ideas across to the players, but that certainly wasn’t the case here as Arsenal, albeit against a disappointing City side, were in top form.
Saka was a constant threat and is extremely difficult to defend against, while Willock continues to go from strength to strength as he pushes forwards with regularity and dribbles excellently.
Nketiah, meanwhile, continued to work hard as he always does, and managed to get an assist for Amaechi’s strike, although the forward didn’t have much luck in front of goal himself on this occasion.
Overall, though, this was a hugely encouraging display for Arsenal and Ljungberg will now be looking for his team to start showing greater consistency.