Arsenal u23s won the second game of their PL International Cup campaign against Dinamo Zagreb u23s on Tuesday in dramatic style, with Tyreece John-Jules the star of the show.
Both Arsenal and Zagreb went into Tuesday night’s fixture on the back of opening-game wins over Villarreal CF B, thanks to the irregular scheduling of the Premier League International Cup fixture list.
Arsenal made a few changes to their team from the match against Villarreal. Zak Swanson and Harry Clarke dropped out of the side with injury, whilst Konstantinos Mavropanos and Emile Smith Rowe are now back with the first-team squad.
Joseph Olowu came in at right-back, Zech Medley and Mark McGuinness at centre-back, and James Olayinka in midfield. Folarin Balogun also made the bench after injury, having played his first few minutes in over a month the previous Friday.
Zagreb had all the early pressure, winning a couple of free-kicks in dangerous areas. The first bounced harmlessly into the wall, but the second went low and into the bottom corner of Karl Hein’s goal for 1-0.
Arsenal woke up and had a lot of the possession after that, with Zagreb sitting deep and absorbing pressure. The Gunners struggled to create too many clear cut chances in the opening half an hour though, other than through Matt Smith’s set-pieces.
After 35 minutes, Tyreece John-Jules scored the equaliser. He spun on a loose ball in the box and fired into the bottom corner to make it 1-1. John-Jules then saw another header saved from another Smith free-kick before the half-time whistle.
Zagreb brought a huge amount of physicality to the fixture, conceding free-kicks constantly. They were lucky the referee was extremely lenient with his bookings. A few Arsenal players expressed their anger to the officials over their treatment.
Early in the second half, Arsenal took the lead. Nathan Tormey beat his man on the left-hand side and fired in a cross towards John-Jules.
The striker was too close to receive such a powerful cross and his attempt to control the ball was only semi-effective. The ball dropped into space in the middle of the penalty area and James Olayinka ran onto it to score.
John-Jules almost scored Arsenal’s third goal just over 10 minutes later, chipping into an empty net, but the assistant raised the offside flag. It was certainly very close.
As Arsenal prepared to make a double substitution, Zagreb caught them on the counter-attack. Roko Baturina finished off a quick move against the run of play to make it 2-2 with 10 minutes left.
Steve Bould opted to stick with his planned substitution, bringing on Folarin Balogun for Trae Coyle and Jordan McEneff for Nathan Tormey.
With a couple of minutes left, John-Jules managed to play Balogun in under heavy pressure from a defender. Balogun got to the ball ahead of the goalkeeper, who brought him down for a penalty. Unfortunately, the substitute striker’s spot-kick was saved.
In the fourth minute of injury time, Balogun made amends by helping Arsenal find a dramatic winner.
Balogun received the ball in the box with an excellent touch, and before the defender could get out to him he pushed the ball down the line before squaring for John-Jules to tap into an empty net.
The goal sparked joyous celebrations from an Arsenal side that worked incredibly hard for the win. The team were probably a little more keen to rub the victory in after the antics they dealt with all match.
Starting XI: Hein, Olowu, McGuinness, Medley, Bola, Smith, Burton, Olayinka, Coyle, John-Jules, Tormey.
Subs: Balogun (for Coyle), McEneff (for Tormey)
Unused subs: Omole, Hillson
Where does this leave the group?
Arsenal are on six points, Zagreb on three and Villarreal on zero, all after two games. Leicester are also on zero, but they haven’t played a match yet.
To finish in the top two spots and qualify for the next round, Arsenal need one point against Leicester. However, they could also qualify if Leicester drop points against Villarreal, or if Leicester draw with or beat Zagreb in their final game.
There are still too many permutations for the group winner at this stage. Let’s see how Leicester do against Villarreal on Wednesday night at 19:00 GMT.