Arsenal’s u21s continued their winning ways with a 3-2 victory over Derby County on Friday, in a hard-fought battle that could have gone either way.
They sealed a late – but deserved – victory against Fulham last time out, and despite another scare, they took all three points with plenty of youngsters impressing too.
Krystian Bielik started as a centre-back, with the likes of Stefan O’Connor and Chris Willock amongst the five substitutes to choose from. Glen Kamara was given freedom in a holding midfield role, with the familiar face of Gedion Zelalem not within the matchday squad.
As we reported, the talented 18-year-old midfielder is on the verge of a move to Scottish side Rangers.
Kaylen Hinds returned to action from injury – playing as the CAM behind Stephy Mavididi, and marked his arrival with an impressive brace.
His first, a low effort which nestled into the bottom corner, was deserved after the Gunners started rather brightly. Mavididi was lively throughout and had two half-chances to score in quick succession, but it was to no avail for the 17-year-old forward.
Then, Derby levelled the scoring. Alban Benjaku, who spent ten years of his youth in the Arsenal ranks, haunted his former side and won a penalty-kick in the process after being brought down in the area by goalkeeper Ryan Huddart.
Callum Guy stepped up, and made no mistake from the spot-kick despite Huddart guessing the right way.
As the match went on, Arsenal upped the ante in search of the all-important goal. Just after the interval, Alex Iwobi was unlucky not to grab an assist due to being called offside following some bright work on the flank.
Offrande Zanzala was posing all sorts of questions for the Gunners going forward for Derby, and Huddart had to be alert to deny the Congo-born forward from helping the visitors take the lead.
Tafari Moore made a fantastic challenge to deny Zanzala, who would have been cursing his luck after having seen his header glance off the woodwork too.
By this stage, there were a lot of tired legs out there and substitutes saved the day.
Bielik looked shaky at times in defence, and was shifted forward into a more established midfield role – where he is at his most comfortable. 17-year-old winger Aaron Eyoma, fresh off the bench, delivered an inviting ball towards the far post and Mavididi was lurking to head home from close-range.
2-1 up, they were not finished yet. Soon after the restart, they galloped forward at speed with Iwobi the dictator, unselfishly finding Hinds in space ahead of him, before the ball nestled into the net as Kaylen smashed his effort past a helpless Joshua Barnes.
It wouldn’t have been a typical Arsenal performance though, without some late drama. Despite Huddart’s best efforts to keep him out, Shaquille O’Donald halved the deficit within seconds of the restart with the clock ticking down, although it proved nothing more than a consolation goal in reality.
Next up for the u21’s, is another home fixture against West Ham. They’ll be hoping to keep the likes of Josh Cullen and Djair Parfitt-Williams quiet, because another victory would send them to the top of the table.