Premier League 2
Arsenal 3 (Cottrell 13 (pen.), Moller 48, Taylor-Hart 56) Derby County 1 (Brown 43)
Arsenal U23s extended their winning run to three games with an impressive 3-1 victory at home to Derby County tonight.
In an eventful encounter, Ben Cottrell, who captained the side in the absence of the suspended Folarin Balogun, put Arsenal ahead with a penalty before Derby missed a spot-kick of their own as Jahmal Hector-Ingram’s effort was saved by Arthur Okonkwo.
Derby eventually equalised through Jordan Brown, who capitalised on disappointing defending from Pablo Mari, who was making his first appearance at any level since June.
Arsenal would regain control of proceedings, however, with Nikolaj Moller putting Steve Bould’s side ahead before a strike from Kido Taylor-Hart, who was excellent on his first start at this level, made it 3-1.
Cottrell and Miguel Azeez only arrived back in England today after being unused substitutes for the first-team against Molde last night. However, they were still able to play the full 90 minutes on this occasion.
As has been the case in recent weeks, there was a significant first-team presence in the squad, with Calum Chambers, William Saliba and Mari all starting the game.
Ryan Alebiosu returned from injury to start at left-back in place of the absent Joel Lopez. Okonkwo started in goal, with Mazeed Ogungbo named on the bench after some time out of the squad.
Derby sought to cause problems for Arsenal early on with Okonkwo having to be alert to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Gradually Arsenal started to impose themselves as an attacking force although Chambers’ attempt left a lot to be desired when he sent an effort well wide following impressive work from Azeez.
Arsenal were then awarded a penalty with Taylor-Hart brought down in the area. Cottrell relished the responsibility and scored from the spot, with the young Gunners taking the lead.
Cirjan, who was deployed on the right wing but frequently drifted inside, then had a shot saved as Arsenal looked to add to their lead.
However, just minutes after winning a penalty Taylor-Hart then conceded one as he was penalised for a challenge. Hector-Ingram, who is vastly experienced at this level, saw his attempt well saved by Okonkwo and Derby were unable to score from the rebound.
Arsenal then looked to push on and Chambers embarked on an impressive run forwards from right-back prior to finding Nikolaj Moller, with the striker teeing up Cottrell, whose shot was saved. Taylor-Hart sent a header wide shortly afterwards.
Bould’s side had much defending to do in the closing stages of the first half and eventually the pressure paid off for Derby. Okonkwo was hesitant in dealing with a cross, while Mari didn’t attempt to head the ball when he was well placed to do so. Derby capitalised on the uncertainty, with Brown steering the ball into the back of the net.
Okonkwo had to make a save shortly afterwards but Arsenal did at least regain some momentum in the closing stages of the first half, with Moller finding the side-netting and Taylor-Hart sending an inviting ball across the face of goal which unfortunately was without a recipient.
Mari was replaced by first-year scholar Brooke Norton-Cuffy at the break in a pre-planned change, with Chambers moving across to centre-back.
Arsenal were back in front within minutes of the restart, with Moller continuing his impressive start to his Arsenal career by applying the finishing touch to a slick move that also involved Azeez and Cirjan.
Derby still threatened intermittently thereafter – Cameron Cresswell slipped at the crucial moment when well placed – but Arsenal were largely in control.
Taylor-Hart proceeded to make it 3-1 with his first goal at this level. The winger’s effort may have taken a deflection but it came following another neat passage of play, which was initiated by Saliba, who brought the ball out from the back with authority. From there Azeez and Moller both played a part before Taylor-Hart scored.
Norton-Cuffy, who relishes rampaging forward from right-back, produced a superb cross but Moller couldn’t score on this occasion.
At the other end Okonkwo then had to be alert to make a good save to thwart Louie Watson following an error from Saliba.
Arsenal’s task in terms of seeing out the game then got considerably easier as Derby were reduced to ten men as Kornell MacDonald was dismissed for a second bookable offence following a rash challenge on Alebiosu.
Inevitably, Arsenal looked to take advantage of their numerical superiority, with Cirjan and Taylor-Hart going for goal, while on one occasion Cottrell shot over when he should have played in Taylor-Hart.
Joel Ideho replaced Cirjan in the closing stages and then the whistle blew, with Arsenal U23s continuing their recent resurgence.
It was a hugely positive night for Arsenal, with Chambers completing 90 minutes, while Saliba was largely impressive. Mari should have done better for the Derby goal but had fared rather well until that point and will be pleased to have taken a major step in his road to recovery. Gabriel Martinelli could also receive a runout at this level at some stage as he pushes closer to a return.
As far as the usual U23s are concerned, there were some very good performances. Cottrell and Azeez showed exactly why they were called up to the first-team as they played some excellent passes, while Taylor-Hart has adapted seamlessly to U23 football. Cirjan, too, deserves credit and has played a major part in the improved results at this level, as has Moller, whose all-round game is of a very high standard.
Arsenal: Okonkwo; Chambers, Saliba, Mari (Norton-Curry, 46), Alebiosu; Akinola, Azeez; Cirjan (Ideho, 90), Cottrell, Taylor-Hart; Moller.
Subs not used: Ejeheri, Ogungbo, Dinzeyi.