Premier League International Cup
Arsenal U23s 3 (Tormey 7, Smith Rowe 54, Coyle 79) Villarreal U23s 0
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Quite why Emile Smith Rowe was in action for Arsenal U23s tonight as opposed to featuring for the first-team against Eintracht Frankfurt tomorrow isn’t entirely clear, but the starlet played a key part in helping the second-string to commence their Premier League International Cup campaign with a victory.
Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners at home to Villarreal, with Nathan Tormey, Smith Rowe and Trae Coyle all getting on the scoresheet, but the success wasn’t quite as straightforward as the scoreline may suggest.
The young Gunners had to work very hard to maintain their lead after Tormey found the net in the seventh minute and they were subjected to frequent fouls from Villarreal, many of which went unpunished.
Arsenal managed to survive, however, and Steve Bould’s side have now won three games in a row.
Bould welcomed back captain Robbie Burton from suspension, with Smith Rowe also coming into the side. James Olayinka and Ben Cottrell were the players to drop to the bench, while Mark McGuinness replaced Tobi Omole in the squad.
Subs: Medley (for Coyle, 81), Olayinka (for Tormey, 85), Cottrell (for Smith Rowe, 90). Not used: Hillson, Olowu, McGuinness, McEneff.
This was Arsenal’s first involvement in the Premier League International Cup for two seasons, since they were beaten by Porto in the final in 2018. Arsenal had beaten Villarreal on penalties in the semi-final that year.
It was an eventful start to the game, with Smith Rowe, deployed in the number ten position, having a shot saved by Jose Antonio Martinez Carceles after being found by Tormey.
At the other end Karl Hein did well to keep out a Villarreal effort, and then Arsenal managed to take the lead in the seventh minute.
It was the hardworking Tormey who scored, with the winger heading in following a cross from Coyle after Smith Rowe was involved in the build-up.
Arsenal sought to double their lead, with Burton playing a precise ball into the path of Smith Rowe, whose effort was saved.
Coyle was then denied but Villarreal ended the half strongly as they put Arsenal under a barrage of pressure.
The visitors struck the post just before half time but Arsenal just about managed to go into the break with their one goal lead intact.
Arsenal emerged for the second half eager to add to their lead and Burton had an opportunity to make it 2-0 but shot just wide.
It was eventually 2-0, though, with Smith Rowe scoring after embarking on a trademark burst from midfield and exchanging passes with Tormey prior to slotting the ball home.
Villarreal threatened every so often and Hein could never relax for too long, but Arsenal were continuing to carve out chances of their own, and John-Jules was denied after he was found by Matt Smith.
The visitors missed an excellent chance to score and they were made to regret it as shortly afterwards Coyle made it 3-0 when he scored following a corner.
Zech Medley replaced the goalscorer as Arsenal opted for greater solidity at the back before Olayinka and Cottrell also came on in the closing stages.
John-Jules and Olayinka both sought to add to Arsenal’s lead but 3-0 was sufficient as Arsenal started the tournament impressively.
Arsenal were livid at some of the decisions made by referee Ryan Atkin, with Villarreal players frequently making rash challenges.
Although it wasn’t an especially dynamic performance from Arsenal, Bould will be delighted that his team managed to keep a second clean sheet in succession after so long without one, with Harry Clarke marshalling the defence well.
In midfield, Smith and Burton played some neat passes, while wingers Coyle and Tormey are continuing to make an impact.
After a slow start, Smith Rowe was impressive in the second half and it remains to be seen what is in store for him in the remainder of the campaign.