Vlad Dragomir proved pivotal with two assists that ensured Arsenal u18s drew with Reading in their first Merit Group fixture.

It was a sluggish start to proceedings from Kwame Ampadu’s side, who finished second in the U18 Premier League South Division.

Ampadu made three changes to the side that were defeated by Tottenham last time out. Hugo Keto, Tolaji Bola and the aforementioned Dragomir were all recalled into the starting eleven, a real signal of Arsenal’s intent from the offset.

Arsenal’s team: Keto; Osei-Tutu, Medley, Bola, Olowu; Dasilva (Benson, 62′), Gilmour; Smith-Rowe, Willock, Dragomir; Fortune. Unused: Ballard, Crean (GK), Omole, Thompson.

Danny Loader broke the deadlock for the visitors after four minutes, but Joe Willock equalised in the 22nd minute after being teed up by Dragomir.

It wasn’t long before Reading found themselves in-front once more, this time courtesy of Ramarni Medford-Smith. The highly-rated fullback, 18, has featured in older age-groups this term just like Dragomir and notched a goal of his own shortly after the half-hour mark.

Arsenal’s resilience cannot be understated, especially at youth level. Joshua Dasilva was replaced by Josh Benson after an hour and the hosts’ attacking efforts ultimately proved dividends.

Emile Smith-Rowe, who has impressed in recent weeks, equalised in the 81st minute after being set through on-goal by the creative Romanian.

As it stands

This result sees the Young Guns start their Merit Group campaign off with a hard-fought draw.

Other results in Tier One:

  • Liverpool 2-2 Manchester United
  • West Ham 0-4 Chelsea

Manchester City’s FA Youth Cup commitments mean they and Blackburn are yet to play.

It’s not an ideal for Arsenal start so Ampadu and his coaching staff must stress the importance of starting games in better fashion. Against better opposition, the u18s might not manage to recover from a two-goal deficit.