A well-taken hat-trick from Edward Nketiah was more than enough for Arsenal u23s to prevail with a comfortable 3-0 home win against Leicester on Monday evening.
Goals in video at end of post
The talented 17-year-old forward, who has flourished in the u18s and was rewarded an opportunity to shine amongst more experienced players with the u23s, excelled with three sharp finishes from different angles.
He wasn’t our only bright spark on an evening packed full of chances as the Young Guns established dominance early on. This is impressive to see especially without the presence of Matt Macey, Marc Bola, Krystian Bielik, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Stephy Mavididi, all of whom have been training with the first-team ahead of our EFL Cup quarter-final against Southampton on Wednesday.
Reiss Nelson was at his creative best, feeding the run of Vlad Dragomir with a lofted ball into his path – but the Romanian didn’t get clean contact on the effort and it flew over the crossbar.
Nketiah’s first effort of the game was off-target after a pass from Nelson, before he eventually broke the deadlock. Following another probing ball by Nelson, he weaved past a defender before effortlessly curling his strike into the corner.
A great passing move saw the ball threaded into Willock’s path in the area by Josh daSilva, with the talented winger watching on as his curled effort forced goalkeeper Daniel Iversen into a low diving stop to his left to parry the ball to safety.
Leicester didn’t create many chances of note in the first 45, and Arsenal themselves were forced into the first change of the match after Ben Sheaf (injury) was replaced by Tolaji Bola at the start of the second-half.
Josh daSilva had to fill in at centre-back, where he’d never played before as Bola shifted out to the left-hand side of a back-four.
Bennacer showed his impressive ball control and ever-improving awareness with possession to win the ball in his own half before battling past two opposition challenges to pass forward. Nelson’s deft flick-on found Nketiah perfectly as Arsenal’s counter-attacking brilliance begun once more and seconds later, the 17-year-old was wheeling away to celebrate scoring his brace.
Weaving his way to the edge of the area with a few stepovers to keep Leicester defenders on their toes, he fired low and hard past a helpless Iversen.
Dragomir’s precise delivery to the back post was crucial in helping Nketiah seal his hat-trick, as the ball-watching backline found themselves two steps behind and were made to pay by an alert forward, making no mistake from close-range.
Hugo Keto made a string of fine saves to keep a well-earned clean sheet at the other end, whilst the u23s’ backline was refreshingly solid as they kept lapses in concentration down to a minimum throughout.
The result boosts Steve Gatting’s side up to fourth in the Premier League 2 Division 1 table, seven points below league leaders Everton with a number of clubs in hot pursuit just below the Young Guns including Chelsea and Manchester United.
When on-song, the attacking firepower within the side is genuinely a threat to any opposition, as shown again here. The speed of transition from defence to attack in a few seconds just reiterates how quickly chances can be created, and the number of talented forwards who have become architects as well as getting into goal-scoring opportunities themselves (Dragomir and Nelson in particular) will only prove beneficial for their long-term development.