Papa John’s Trophy – Group stage
By Jeorge Bird @ Portman Road
Ipswich Town 2 (Ball 3, Ladapo 85) Arsenal 0
Arsenal U21s saw their unbeaten start to the season come to an end against an impressive Ipswich Town side in the Papa John’s Trophy at Portman Road tonight.
The young Gunners had dispatched of Cambridge United in their opening group game but faced a considerably more challenging task against an Ipswich side that are top of League One.
One positive to take from proceedings on a difficult night for Arsenal was that Reuell Walters made his comeback from injury as he featured in the second half.
There was a very familiar face in the Ipswich side, with Tyreece John-Jules, who is on loan from Arsenal, coming on for the last 25 minutes and impressing.
With Lino Sousa and Amario Cozier-Duberry away with England U18s, coach Mehmet Ali was deprived of the services of two of his star players.
U18s defender Elian Quesada-Thorn was drafted in at left-back, while Kido Taylor-Hart was given a chance to impress our wide. Matt Smith returned to U21 action and captained the side.
On the bench there was a first callup at this level for Maldini Kacurri, with the centre-back having featured prominently for the U18s this season.
M. Smith-Henry Francis
Taylor Hart-Bandeira-Sagoe Jr
Subs: Walters (for Quesada-Thorn, 46), Ibrahim (for Bandeira, 46), Cirjan (for Taylor-Hart, 46), Ideho (for Sagoe Jr, 86), Vigar (for M. Smith, 90). Not used: Hillson, Kacurri.
Arsenal immediately found themselves under pressure, with Zach Awe having to cut out the danger.
Then, with just three minutes gone, Ipswich took the lead following a well-worked corner routine that culminated in Dominic Ball scoring.
Taylor Foran and Awe had to make further interventions to prevent Ipswich from adding to their lead, with Arsenal struggling to build up any attacking momentum of their own.
Hubert Graczyk saved well with his feet and Marcus Harness then shot over for Ipswich.
Eventually Arsenal managed to enjoy a sustained spell of possession but unfortunately nothing came of it.
Graczyk then saved from Freddie Ladapo as Ipswich had another chance before half time.
Even with the standard of opposition taken into account, it was still a rather lacklustre first half performance and Mehmet Ali responded by making a triple substitution at the start of the second half.
Walters came on for Quesada-Thorn at left-back, while Catalin Cirjan replaced Taylor-Hart and Bradley Ibrahim was introduced for Bandeira.
Ipswich continued to threaten in the early stages of the second half, with Graczyk pressed into action again.
The hosts came close to getting a second goal and they then turned to John-Jules, a player who has made 42 appearances for Arsenal U21s/U23s.
John-Jules was instantly involved as he won a corner after his effort was deflected off James Sweet.
Matt Smith curled a free-kick in a rare chance from Arsenal, with Charles Sagoe Jr then having a shot blocked.
Just when it seemed that Arsenal may have had a chance of getting back into the game, Ipswich got a second goal, with Ladapo applying the finishing touch following a break downfield. Awe had fouled John-Jules high up the pitch in the buildup, with the referee waving play on.
Joel Ideho replaced Sagoe Jr and then Butler-Oyedeji had an inviting opportunity to score from close range as the ball fell to him following an Ipswich mistake but he somehow failed to convert.
Billy Vigar entered the fray late on in place of Matt Smith, who was struggling with cramp.
Ipswich had another chance in the closing stages but they had already inflicted enough damage on an Arsenal side that didn’t really test their opponents.
This will probably go down as Arsenal’s most disappointing display of the season so far, although the physical difference between the two sets of players was stark.
Sagoe Jr and Butler-Oyedeji, who have caught the eye at this level this season, struggled to get into the game and there wasn’t much support from midfield until the introduction of Ibrahim.
This will be seen as a useful learning experience for Arsenal, while Walters’ return bodes well going forward especially given his versatility in defence.
Arsenal will face Northampton Town in their final group game and still have a good chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
Tonight, though, the standout Arsenal player was playing for the opposition, with John-Jules giving a good account of himself.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the 21-year-old beyond this season but he is finally enjoying a spell without injuries after spending so long on the sidelines.