Stephy Mavididi netted a brace but Arsenal u23s were unable to take any points against a strong Liverpool side, which included the likes of defensive duo Mamadou Sakho and Joe Gomez, as well as Sheyi Ojo and highly rated forward, Harry Wilson.
Steve Gatting opted for the inclusion of Ismael Bennacer to partner Ainsley Maitland-Niles as part of a midfield pairing. Reiss Nelson and Chris Willock started on either flank with Mavididi operating as the lone striker; Vlad Dragomir and Gedion Zelalem were surprisingly left on the substitutes’ bench.
Liverpool broke the deadlock just two minutes in after Tiago Ilori’s lofted ball breached the Gunners’ backline and allowed the aforementioned Wilson a clear-cut opportunity to score. He raced into the space between centreback pairing, Ben Sheaf and Krystian Bielik, before coolly chipping the ball over an onrushing Matt Macey.
The goal was met with welcome applause from the hosts but equally confusion at how Arsenal could concede with seeming ease. An almost instant reply followed, as Nelson and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde combined on the right before the latter’s pass teed up Mavididi to his left. He made no mistake from close range to equalise in the 5th minute.
Liverpool’s lead was restored shortly afterward, as a hopeful delivery into the box was fumbled by Macey into the path of Cameron Brannagan. The 20-year-old midfielder was hauled to ground by Macey as he attempted to clear the danger but made things worse by conceding a spot-kick.
Wilson ensured Macey could not atone for the error by drilling his strike into the bottom corner, despite the 21-year-old guessing the right way to his left-hand side.
It soon went from bad to worse for the visitors as Pedro Chirivella’s defence-splitting through ball caught Chiori Johnson flat-footed. Ojo was in-behind and within moments, slotted his one-on-one chance low away from a helpless Macey, who could only watch as the winger wheeled away to celebrate after 27 minutes.
Arsenal’s backline was getting cut open effortlessly in the first half-hour and it was a refreshing sight to see that despite this, there was a collective hunger for the players to react positively in the face of adversity. Reine-Adélaïde isn’t known for his defensive work but it was his pressure and subsequent tackle on Ojo, which proved pivotal in the build-up to Mavididi’s second strike.
Possession was won back here and Reiss Nelson’s trademark driving run forward left Liverpool’s defence un-organised as they attempted to track back quickly. They were fast, but Nelson was quicker in this instance before showing his unselfish nature to square the ball across into the path of Mavididi. The 18-year-old was on hand to take a touch before firing goalwards past Shamal George, netting his fifth goal of this season’s u23 Premier League campaign.
Steve Gatting’s side ultimately could’ve snatched a least a point near the end, as Mavididi’s second goal of the evening helped to rejuvenate the team. They were looking dangerous in advanced areas and this meant Liverpool had to defend in numbers with time ticking down. Edward Nketiah, on as a second-half substitute, was unfortunate to see his effort flash past the post after patient build-up in the final third saw the ball fizzed into his direction, but George made an important intervention with his body to block the strike across goal.
The defeat sees Arsenal’s three-match unbeaten run come to an end, in the final fixture of the calendar year. The Young Guns sit in 6th place with 16 points after twelve matches, and will be hoping for more consistency after Christmas to end the season on a high in 2017.