Premier League International Cup
Arsenal U23s 0 Reading U23s 0
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park
Despite coming close to scoring on several occasions, Arsenal U23s had to settle for a point against Reading tonight in their second Premier League International Cup fixture.
The young Gunners had to work extremely hard to overcome Porto a couple of weeks ago and this was another difficult challenge for Steve Gatting’s side, both defensively and going forwards.
Arsenal had to be reliant on goalkeeper Matt Macey, who made some fine saves, while Ben Sheaf and Julio Pleguezuelo made some important interventions.
At the other end Eddie Nketiah had the ball in the net towards the end but the goal was ruled out for offside and Arsenal were unable to secure victory.
There were three changes from the victory over West Ham United, with Mathieu Debuchy, Reiss Nelson and Chuba Akpom replacing Zech Medley, Emile Smith Rowe and Tolaji Bola. The alterations saw Vlad Dragomir deployed at left wing-back, while Marcus McGuane was still unavailable due to injury.
Arsenal wore black armbands in remembrance of Dermot Drummy, the club’s former youth player and coach, who died this week.
Subs: Medley (for Debuchy, 65), Smith Rowe (for Akpom, 66). Not used: Keto, Gilmour, T. Bola.
Arsenal are used to starting brightly and they did just that on this occasion, with Debuchy, up from the back, heading over from Josh Dasilva’s free-kick.
Nelson and Joe Willock then missed inviting opportunities, with Akpom especially frustrated that the latter didn’t pass to him when he was well placed.
Soon, however, Reading started to provide an indication of the attacking threat they possessed themselves.
Sheaf, who was once again impressive in defence, made an excellent intervention to thwart the danger on one occasion and then Macey, as he would have to do on several occasions during the game, made a good stop.
Arsenal continued to create chances at the other end but they lacked conviction in front of goal with even the usually prolific Nketiah struggling to make the most of his chances.
Dasilva was at the hub of much of what was good about Arsenal’s play and the 19-year-old has benefited immensely from his spell at left wing-back as he is now more assured defensively in addition to being a creative threat.
The versatile youngster saw an effort deflected wide towards the end of the first half and then Akpom, who had impressed with his link-up play but hadn’t had many chances in front of goal, had a shot saved.
Arsenal seemed especially determined to break the deadlock early in the second half and they almost did so when Nelson threaded a neat ball through into the path of Joe Willock, but the midfielder couldn’t score.
Nelson was becoming increasingly involved in proceedings but didn’t have his best game overall as he frequently over-ran the ball and missed some good opportunities to score.
Reading were certainly capable of causing Arsenal problems but the visitors deserve much credit for a resolute defensive display which restricted the space available to Gatting’s side and made it difficult for them to get in behind.
Debuchy, for the second time in the game, came close to scoring, but that proved to be the 32-year-old’s final contribution as he was replaced by Medley.
Smith Rowe, meanwhile, entered the fray in place of Akpom, who will hope to get an opportunity to impress for the first-team against BATE Borisov in the Europa League next week.
Medley’s first act was almost a costly one as he lost possession in a dangerous area but Reading were unable to capitalise.
Arsenal’s seemed more fluid as an attacking unit, meanwhile, following Smith Rowe’s introduction, with Nketiah pushed into the striking berth vacated by Akpom.
Reading continued to threaten intermittently but the majority of the drama in the closing stages occurred down the other end, with Arsenal cranking up the pressure.
Nketiah had the ball in the net but the offside flag was raised and then Dasilva came close from a free-kick.
Reading were extremely well organised, though, with the vast majority of their team inside their own penalty area towards the end. Ryan East was especially effective at the back for the Royals but Arsenal just couldn’t find the breakthrough despite the attacking stars that they had on show.
Dasilva’s encouraging display was the main plus point to take away from proceedings, although it was notable that Arsenal suffered creatively due to Dragomir being deployed in the unfamiliar position of left wing-back, which meant that the Romanian couldn’t have as much of an impact going forwards as he usually does.
Overall, Arsenal will be frustrated not to have prevailed but a return of four points out of six so far in this tournament is commendable, with Bayern Munich still to visit Meadow Park in January.