Premier League 2
Arsenal U23s 0 Manchester City U23s 2 (Delap 15, 48)
Arsenal U23s called upon Reiss Nelson again but were unable to end their winless run tonight as they suffered a 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester City.
Liam Delap scored both goals for City and in truth the visitors could have won by a much larger margin were it not for the exploits of Arsenal goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo, who made some fantastic saves in the second half.
Arsenal, who were without captain Folarin Balogun, lacked cohesion and weren’t helped by an injury to Charlie Patino late in the first half.
Despite having the creative talents of Nelson, Ben Cottrell and Kido Taylor-Hart at their disposal, the young Gunners failed to make the most of their opportunities, while striker Nikolaj Moller wasn’t able to have a major impact on proceedings.
Balogun’s omission was the major talking point from the team news, with Cottrell given the armband in his absence.
Daniel Oyegoke started at centre-back despite being sent off against Manchester United last time out, suggesting that his red card was overturned.
Tolaji Bola and Trae Coyle were named on the bench as they were included in the squad for the first time since returning from loan spells at Rochdale and Gillingham respectively.
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It was thought that City would pose a significant threat to Arsenal given their position at the top of the table and the fact that they scored six against Leicester last time out.
Sure enough, City started on the front foot at Meadow Park, with Felix Nmecha having a weak shot saved by Okonkwo before Tommy Doyle shot over.
With 15 minutes gone City were in front and it was an avoidable goal from an Arsenal perspective as it stemmed from a disappointing throw-in from the otherwise impressive Ryan Alebiosu.
Delap seized possession following the throw and then finished well to put City in the ascendancy. It wasn’t the first time that an Arsenal side have been left frustrated by a goal involving Delap and a throw-in.
Arsenal looked to respond but Alebiosu was just unable to find midfielder Tim Akinola and the next chance fell to City, with Nmecha shooting just wide.
Nelson, who was hugely impressive in his previous appearance for the U23s, then sought to impose himself on proceedings and embarked upon an excellent run before shooting but City goalkeeper Louie Moulden was able to push the ball out for a corner.
Shortly afterwards Nelson shot over again as Arsenal looked to equalise.
City were always a threat, with Okonkwo having to be alert to keep out Doyle’s effort, but by this point Arsenal were creating more chances themselves and a well-crafted cross from Patino found Moller, but the tall striker’s header lacked power and was saved.
Oyegoke then headed over following a corner from Kido Taylor-Hart, who has done well to establish himself in the side at this level despite still being eligible for the U18s.
There are still some areas in which Taylor-Hart needs to improve, however. For instance, he took too long to shoot on one occasion after being found by Nelson and was later booked for a mistimed challenge.
Nelson, Arsenal’s creator-in-chief in the first half, then found Joel Lopez, who, having burst forward from left-back, forced a save from Moulden.
Patino suffered an injury in the closing stages of the first half, and, despite temporarily coming back onto the pitch, the talented youngster eventually had to be replaced, with Coyle entering the fray for his first U23 appearance of the season.
Any hopes Arsenal had of starting the second half strongly were quickly dashed with City making it 2-0 in the 48th minute. Delap was the scorer again and Arsenal left far too much space in midfield for City to run into.
City upped the ante even further as Doyle’s effort rattled the post and then Okonkwo saved from Nmecha.
Arsenal tried to respond but their finishing lacked conviction all night, with Nelson and Coyle both having shots saved.
As the game wore on it more or less became a contest between City and Okonkwo, with the Arsenal goalkeeper having to deal with a barrage of attempts.
The 19-year-old stood strong and made no fewer than five saves, some of which were of a very high standard.
Arsenal, rather belatedly, made further substitutions, with George Lewis and Jonathan Dinzeyi coming on, but the game was effectively over and City went on to take all three points.
It appeared that Arsenal had turned a corner after a miserable start to the season but the disappointing results have crept back in, with Steve Bould’s side having now gone four games without a win.
Arsenal are currently seven points clear of the drop zone so relegation isn’t an immediate concern but their safety in the top flight, which is crucial for the development of the club’s prospects, is far from guaranteed.
As alluded to, the midfield was far too open at times tonight, with Tim Akinola looking out of his depth, while the young centre-back partnership of Oyegoke and Alex Kirk will take some fine-tuning.
Joel Lopez showed some signs of improvement in the second half but Arsenal lacked conviction going forward despite being able to call upon the likes of Nelson and Taylor-Hart.
The continued absence of Catalin Cirjan, who could be in action for the U18s tomorrow, is rather unusual but the problems are deeper than that, with Arsenal having much work to do to get back on track.
Arsenal: Okonkwo; Alebiosu, Oyegoke (Dinzeyi, 90), Kirk, Lopez; Akinola, Patino (Coyle, 45); Taylor-Hart (Lewis, 85), Cottrell, Nelson; Moller. Subs not used: T. Smith, Bola.