Premier League 2
Arsenal 4 (Nelson 11, 57, Nketiah 15, 37) Manchester City 3 (Smith 31, Diaz 68, Nmecha 74)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
If the first two games of the season are anything to go by this will be an enthralling campaign for Arsenal U23s.
After coming from behind to beat Derby County 3-2 last week, Steve Gatting’s side were involved in another thrilling encounter tonight as they prevailed past Manchester City with a 4-3 win at Emirates Stadium.
Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah enhanced their burgeoning reputations further still as they scored a brace each, although the majority of the headlines will focus on Jack Wilshere, who was sent off in the second half.
Wilshere, continuing to build up his fitness following his latest injury setback, had hitherto produced an excellent display as he played pinpoint passes with regularity and set up one of Nketiah’s goals.
In the 63rd minute, however, Wilshere was dismissed after he reacted angrily to a late challenge from Tyreke Wilson, with the City player also sent off.
The altercation continued into the tunnel and there can be no denying that Wilshere’s fighting spirit remains intact but, despite being on the receiving end of several late tackles from City players, he perhaps took matters a little too far on this occasion.
Arsenal were 4-1 up at the time of Wilshere’s dismissal and seemingly cruising to victory.
Despite both teams being down to ten men, City responded to the situation with greater alacrity and proceeded to reduce the deficit to 4-3, with Brahim Diaz scoring before Lukas Nmecha also got on the scoresheet with a penalty.
Arsenal, however, managed to hold on and preserve their winning start to the season.
There were several alterations to the side that faced Derby, with Matt Macey, Rob Holding, Julio Pleguezuelo, Josh Dasilva and Donyell Malen replacing Ryan Huddart, Cohen Bramall, Francis Coquelin, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Kieran Gibbs.
On the bench Charlie Gilmour and Jordi Osei-Tutu received their first competitive call-ups at this level.
Subs: McGuane (for Malen, 81), Dragomir (for Willock, 81). Not used: Keto, Osei-Tutu, Gilmour.
Arsenal started very brightly, with Donyell Malen heavily involved early on.
The Dutchman shot wide after combining with Nketiah with Arsenal providing City with a warning in the way that they easily cut through their opponent’s defence.
Shortly afterwards Arsenal were in front and it came as no surprise that Nelson was heavily involved.
The prospect made a clever burst down the left flank and exchanged passes with Dasilva, who was galloping forwards from his unfamiliar wing-back position.
After receiving the ball back from his team-mate Nelson drove towards the City goal and found the net with a precise strike.
Arsenal continued to push forwards thereafter, with Malen shooting over, but Holding had to be alert to make an important clearance at the other end.
For the most part, though, Arsenal were in control and they soon made it 2-0, with Nketiah applying the finishing touch on this occasion after he was found by Maitland-Niles; another example of the young Gunners using their wing-backs to excellent effect.
Just when it seemed as if Arsenal were going to establish their dominance even further, City managed to claw their way back into the game, with Matthew Smith’s effort getting the better of Macey after some static defending.
City’s momentum wasn’t helped by the fact that they had to take off two players – Taylor Richards and Javairo Dilrosun – in the first-half due to injury.
Arsenal took full advantage of the uncertainty in the City side with Wilshere playing an inch-perfect through pass into the path of Nketiah, who scored his third goal of the season.
Nketiah could have scored again just before the interval after he turned expertly but the striker was thwarted by City goalkeeper Daniel Grimshaw.
Wilshere started to excel early in the second period as he played some superb passes.
On one occasion the midfielder’s cross found captain Julio Pleguezuelo, whose parried header fell to Nketiah, with the latter almost finding the net once more.
Arsenal did eventually make it 4-1, with Wilshere finding Dasilva, whose cross brought Nelson into play. Steadying himself Nelson found the net with ease and, with that, the outcome of the game was surely beyond doubt.
Except it wasn’t.
Then came the flashpoint involving Wilshere and Wilson, with the pair clashing following a late challenge from the City player.
Wilshere appeared to confront Wilson as the pair entered the tunnel after being dismissed and, even though both teams had lost a player, City seemed galvanised by the fact that they no longer had to deal with the considerable threat of Wilshere.
Soon enough Diaz pulled a goal back after being found by Smith and then City were awarded a controversial penalty, with Nmecha taking full advantage and slotting the ball past Macey.
Arsenal looked to get the safety net of a fifth goal but Nketiah and Joe Willock were unsuccessful in their attempts to score.
Marcus McGuane and Vlad Dragomir then entered the fray in place of Malen and Willock, with Arsenal continuing to pour forwards as Nelson came close to clinching his hat-trick.
City shot over in the dying moments but Arsenal managed to hold on for victory.
Arsenal’s next two games at this level are against Liverpool and Manchester United – the high-octane entertainment is unlikely to stop anytime soon.