Premier League 2
Arsenal 1 (Edwards 40) West Ham United 1 (Appiah-Forson 9)
By Jeorge Bird @LV Bet Stadium Meadow Park
One of the most intriguing aspects of youth football is that it is constantly changing in terms of personnel, and tonight we were provided with a glimpse of what Arsenal’s regular U23 side could look like in the not too distant future.
The young Gunners were without Charlie Patino, Salah-Eddine, Omari Hutchinson and Mika Biereth, all of whom were on the bench for the first-team against Liverpool last night.
In their absence, Khayon Edwards and Marcelo Flores were given starts, while Reuell Walters was also called upon.
Up against a West Ham side who lead the table and thrashed Arsenal 6-1 at the start of the season, this was a tough task for Kevin Betsy’s team.
Arsenal started slowly and fell behind to a goal from the impressive Keenan Appiah-Forson. However, Edwards got a goal back and Arsenal performed significantly better in the second half, with the game eventually ending 1-1.
James Olayinka missed out due to the injury he suffered against Chelsea, but there was some positive news on the injury front as defender Alex Kirk returned to the matchday squad after a lengthy absence.
Norton Cuffy-Henry Francis-Akinola-Lopez
Subs: Alebiosu (for Norton-Cuffy, 46), Sagoe Jr (for Ideho, 80), Kirk (for Awe, 90). Not used: Ejeheri, Bandeira.
The West Ham side included two former Arsenal youth players in Levi Laing and Armstrong Oko-Flex, and it was clear from the outset that the visitors were going to cause frequent problems.
Arsenal looked to create an opening as Walters, pushing forward from centre-back, sent in a cross, but Joel Ideho ended up heading over.
The next opportunity fell to West Ham, and it resulted in a goal, with Appiah-Forson taking advantage of a weak back-pass.
West Ham had another chance shortly afterwards, with Oko-Flex looking dangerous.
Karl Hein later had to make a save following a West Ham counter-attack as Arsenal found themselves under a barrage of pressure.
Eventually Arsenal were able to pose more of an attacking threat themselves, with Brooke Norton-Cuffy delivering a cross that found Edwards, whose effort was deflected for a corner. From the subsequent set-piece Akinola later shot over.
West Ham were always a threat, especially on the counter-attack, but Arsenal managed to cope and they eventually managed to equalise.
Flores played in Walters, who went for goal but saw his effort saved by Krisztian Hegyi. However, Hegyi was unable to keep hold of the ball and the alert Edwards was on hand to steer it into the back of the net for his first goal in Premier League 2.
Before the half time whistle blew Flores sent a free-kick over the crossbar.
It wasn’t a vintage first half display from Arsenal, but they did well to stay in the game and they were eventually rewarded for their persistence with Edwards’ goal.
Arsenal made a change at the start of the second half as Ryan Alebiosu replaced Norton-Cuffy, perhaps with the latter needing to be saved given the first-team’s lack of options at right-back at present.
Ideho was struggling and on one occasion was berated by captain Tim Akinola for misplacing a simple pass. Akinola later gave his team-mate words of encouragement as he looked to help him get out of his predicament.
Joel Lopez got into an inviting position after pushing forward down the left flank, but the Spaniard erroneously elected to shoot rather than cross and his effort was off target.
West Ham sent on the highly rated Thierry Nevers in place of Oko-Flex, but Arsenal were gaining more control of the game.
Arsenal came close to going ahead as Edwards’ shot rattled the post after he was played in by Ideho.
After being rather cagey for a prolonged period, the game suddenly opened up and Lopez had to make an important defensive intervention before Charles Sagoe Jr, who came on to make his Premier League 2 debut, hit the side-netting.
Flores then went for goal but ended up hitting his own team-mate in Sagoe Jr.
Hein then made an impressive stop after a disappointing kick out moments earlier.
West Ham missed an inviting chance with a header and then Akinola had to clear the danger following an error from Awe.
Flores has an excellent understanding with Edwards and the pair combined once more, but the striker’s shot was saved.
West Ham managed to scramble the ball clear after an Arsenal corner.
In the closing stages Awe injured himself after clattering into an advertising board while defending. Kirk replaced him for his first appearance since September.
The game ended 1-1 and, in the circumstances, with some key players missing, Arsenal will be satisfied.
West Ham remain top of the table, with Arsenal seven points behind in fourth.
Most importantly this was a useful experience for the likes of Flores and Edwards as they become more accustomed to playing at this level.
Akinola really stepped up in the second half and perhaps needs to go on loan, while Norton-Cuffy posed a threat going forwards in the first half.
Midfielder Jack Henry-Francis, meanwhile, is a talented player but he perhaps needs to release the ball quicker at times. Sagoe Jr was lively as a substitute and will hope for further opportunities at this level in the near future.
Overall, after a sluggish start, Arsenal, without a quarter of key players, grew into this game and put in a determined display against a team who could end up being crowned champions at the end of the season.