Boreham Wood 3 Arsenal 3 (M. Smith, John-Jules (2))
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Much has changed for Arsenal U23s this summer – they have a new coach in Steve Bould, several players have moved on and others have moved up from the U18s, and there is also a new North Stand in place at Meadow Park.
One thing remains the same, however, with Tyreece John-Jules commencing pre-season in the same prolific form that he concluded the previous campaign.
John-Jules, who entered the fray as a second-half substitute, scored a brace, with one of his goals coming from the penalty spot, as Arsenal U23s came from behind to draw 3-3 against Boreham Wood.
Matt Smith, who caught the eye during his time on the field, also got on the scoresheet, but Arsenal were lacklustre in the first half before improving significantly in the second period.
Bould, somewhat surprisingly, named John-Jules and Xavier Amaechi on the bench, but still named a strong side, with Zech Medley and Trae Coyle amongst the players involved from the offset.
Subs (all used): Hillson, Dennis, Azeez, Olowu, Clarke, Amaechi, Cottrell, John-Jules, Greenwood, Alebiosu, Ogungbo, Matthews.
It was evident very early on that Arsenal would look to play the ball back to goalkeeper Karl Hein, who was making his return from injury, as frequently as possible, with Smith often dropping deep to receive possession.
Arsenal struggled to get into their rhythm in the early stages and they were punished by a lively Boreham Wood team, who took the lead with just three minutes gone.
Nathan Tormey sent an effort over the crossbar at the other end, but Boreham Wood were very much in the ascendancy in the opening stages and made it 2-0 with 15 minutes gone as they capitalised upon some slack defending.
Arsenal were woeful at the back with Mark McGuinness and Medley struggling to build up much of an understanding.
The young Gunners briefly threatened, with Folarin Balogun shooting over and Coyle later having a weak effort saved by former Arsenal goalkeeper Ryan Huddart.
However, Hein had to be alert at the other end to tip an effort over the crossbar as the hosts continued to put Arsenal under intense pressure.
The likes of Balogun and Coyle weren’t at their sharpest, but, despite a very disappointing first half performance, Arsenal still managed to find the net as Smith scored from close range.
It wasn’t long until Boreham Wood made it 3-1, though, as they took advantage of further careless play from Arsenal.
Arsenal’s first half display left much to be desired but they improved significantly after the break, helped by a host of substitutes, including John-Jules and Amaechi.
Alfie Matthews was also brought on for his U23s debut and showed some impressive touches on the right wing, while James Hillson, who has joined permanently from Reading, entered the fray in goal.
Arsenal were suddenly much more of a threat, with Ben Cottrell using the ball intelligently.
John-Jules, who is always a threat in the penalty area, came close to scoring on one occasion after Boreham Wood had managed to scramble an earlier effort off the line.
Dominic Thompson then hit the post with a fierce strike before John-Jules dragged an effort wide.
Arsenal eventually got their second goal of the game, and it was John-Jules who got it as he finished neatly following an impressive passage of play.
There were further changes throughout the second half, with Matthew Dennis, Ryan Alebiosu, Sam Greenwood and Mazeed Ogungbo making their first U23 appearances. The unfortunate Matthews, meanwhile, went off injured.
After McGuinness was fouled in the penalty area the referee pointed to the spot and there seemed little doubt that John-Jules would score as he converted calmly.
Joseph Olowu, who has endured a hugely frustrating time with injuries, made his return to action, and helped Arsenal to defend well in the closing stages as they secured a draw in a game that, for long periods, they had looked losing.
It is difficult to analyse a game played unusually early in pre-season and one that included so many substitutions, but there were some very positive signs for Bould’s side in the second half, not least the performance of John-Jules.
Azeez also showed some good touches, while Smith looks as if he will have no problems adapting to playing for the U23s on a regular basis.
The defence is a huge concern, with the leadership qualities of Daniel Ballard, who has joined Swindon Town on loan, hugely missed.
Zak Swanson was caught out on several occasions at right-back, while Hein wasn’t especially impressive in goal either.
There is much work for Bould to do in terms of helping these players to improve, and the next assignment sees Arsenal take on Barnet on July 24th.