Premier League 2
Arsenal 3 (Malen, Nelson, Jenkinson) Manchester City 3 (Ambrose (2), Nmecha (pen))
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
Carl Jenkinson struck a dramatic late equaliser and Reiss Nelson enhanced his burgeoning reputation further still as Arsenal U23s drew 3-3 with Manchester City tonight in an enthralling encounter at Emirates Stadium.
An Arsenal side containing a smattering of senior players initially struggled to cope with a City team that, in true Pep Guardiola style, kept the ball extremely efficiently.
The visitors took the lead through Thierry Ambrose and then doubled their tally via the same source but Arsenal, crucially, managed to claw their way back into the game just before the break when Donyell Malen found the net.
Arsenal improved after the break with Nelson, who was hugely impressive throughout, making it 2-2, and, although a penalty from Lukas Nmecha temporarily put City back in front, Jenkinson was on hand to seal a point for Arsenal, with Nelson heavily involved in proceedings once again.
Coach Steve Gatting made four alterations from the win against Tottenham Hotspur, with Rob Holding, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ainsley Maitland-Niles all coming into the side. Ryan Huddart, meanwhile, started in goal for the first time since returning from his loan spell at Eastleigh.
Reine Adelaide-Maitland Niles
Subs: Nketiah (for Malen, 76), McGuane (for Sanogo, 86). Not used: Keto, Johnson, Dasilva.
City were dominant in the early exchanges and had an effort ruled out for offside.
At the other end Sanogo, who scored against Tottenham, was unable to control the ball when well placed, with his subsequent effort being closed down by the City defence.
Chris Willock then had a shot saved, with Sanogo then seeing his header held following an impressive cross from Cohen Bramall, but all the while it seemed that City were most likely to open the scoring.
They did just that in the 16th minute, with a slick passing move eventually seeing the ball worked to Ambrose, who calmly slotted past Huddart.
Arsenal sought to respond immediately, with Nelson having an effort kept out, but Huddart then had to be alert down the other end to prevent City from doubling their advantage.
Soon, though, City were 2-0 in front and Ambrose was the goalscorer again as he controlled a searching pass and finished extremely well.
Arsenal found themselves in a difficult situation, fully aware that the game was slipping away from them and knowing that, in all likelihood, a goal before half-time was a necessity if they were to take something from this fixture.
City continued to probe patiently, starving Arsenal off possession in a manner that hasn’t often been seen at this level.
To their credit, though, Arsenal simply refused to give in, and they created a flurry of chances in quick succession, with Nelson, Maitland-Niles and Sanogo all attempting to find the net.
None of the trio were successful, but, in the 42nd minute, Malen was. Reine-Adelaide did well to work some space after dribbling inside from the left flank and found Nelson, who subsequently laid the ball off to Malen, with the Dutchman’s attempt getting the better of City goalkeeper Arijanet Muric.
That goal gave the young Gunners an injection of confidence going into the second half and they started extremely brightly after the interval, with Reine-Adelaide embarking upon an excellent run that ended with him passing to Malen, whose effort was deflected over.
Maitland-Niles then tracked back well to cut out the danger as City threatened, but the majority of the action was taking place at the other end of the pitch and Arsenal pulled level through Nelson’s strike, which was well placed.
Arsenal didn’t stop there – Maitland-Niles had an attempt saved and Malen almost played in Sanogo as Gatting’s team sought to go in front.
City couldn’t be discounted, however, and, after squandering an inviting opportunity to regain the lead, the visitors were given a penalty following a clumsy challenge from Bramall, who had been rather impressive up until that point.
Substitute Lukas Nmecha converted the spot-kick and Arsenal knew that time was running out for them to get back level.
Arsenal poured forwards, and changes were made as Eddie Nketiah and Marcus McGuane entered the fray.
Nketiah would go on to play a crucial part in proceedings as, following a weaving run from Nelson, it was his pass that teed up Jenkinson, who, improbably, made it 3-3 with almost the last kick of the game.
Arsenal are in fourth place in the table, ten points adrift of City, but there was so much to take from this game, not least the performance of Nelson, who was the hub of everything that was good about his side going forwards.
Reine-Adelaide also impressed in the second half, while Maitland-Niles and Willock also made positive contributions.
Arsenal were vulnerable defensively at times, but there were probably more positives than negatives from this game, with Nelson’s performance ultimately the most pertinent plus point.