Miguel Azeez scored another fantastic goal as Arsenal’s u23s bounced back from defeat to beat Ebbsfleet United 4-1 in their second pre-season fixture.
The Arsenal u23s looked understandably off the pace at the start of the opening pre-season fixture against Bromley earlier this week, facing an opponent in the latter stages of their preparations and having had games cancelled or postponed amid Covid disruptions.
The upside of all that fixture rescheduling was that they quickly had another chance to get back out there and get their first win of pre-season against Ebbsfleet United on Saturday.
Arsenal were welcoming a couple of players back to the squad, with Miguel Azeez dropping back down from his first-team participation, and Joel Lopez and Brooke Norton-Cuffy involved in pre-season for the first time.
But the biggest change was in formation, as interim u23 head coach Ryan Garry selected three at the back to kick things off against Ebbsfleet.
Right-back Zak Swanson acted as a right-centre-back on this occasion, starting alongside Alex Kirk and Zane Monlouis in central defence.
On paper, that made it look like a pretty defensive side, with fellow defenders Mazeed Ogungbo and the day’s captain Jordi Osei-Tutu in the wing-back roles. But the team made up for that with how comfortably and how often the defence made forays up the pitch.
That fact was no more evident than in Arsenal’s opening goal of the game, as right-centre-back Swanson found himself in the penalty area six minutes in. He cut onto his left foot and curled a nice finish into the net.
Arsenal had started fast, and Omari Hutchinson was impressing the crowd with his skills, but Ebbsfleet quickly bounced back to equalise with an arrowed finish into the bottom corner.
Ebbsfleet had another chance or two as the half progressed, but it was Arsenal and Khayon Edwards who ended up forcing another breakthrough.
With a few minutes to go to half-time, Edwards was pretty clearly fouled in the box, but the referee waved away the penalty shouts. Edwards got back up, dusted himself off, and gave the Gunners the lead moments later.
Left-wing-back Ogungbo had found himself in behind the Ebbsfleet defence and sent a low cross into the box. Under heavy pressure from a defender again, Edwards managed to turn the ball home to give his team a lead at the break.
Arsenal made a few changes at the break, with James Hillson coming on for Hubert Graczyk in goal, Ben Cottrell replacing Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand, Charlie Patino taking over from Mauro Bandeira and Joel Lopez getting his first minutes in place of Ogungbo.
Ebbsfleet had the first chance of the second half, with goalscorer Rakish Bingham blazing over this time. Unfortunately for them, it was a false dawn, as Arsenal quickly extended their lead.
Ben Cottrell played the ball into Edwards, who tried to turn to get a shot away. As he held off a defender, Cottrell stole in and collected the ball back before placing a shot, well saved, but he turned in the rebound for 3-1.
Arsenal made another change, with Swanson coming off for Brooke Norton-Cuffy around the 60th minute.
It wasn’t too long after that that the Gunners had their fourth goal, this time down to individual brilliance from Miguel Azeez.
Fresh from his goal for the first team in the friendly against Watford, Azeez scored one even better for the u23s. He picked up the ball in midfield and drove forwards, before firing a reverse shot from the right of the edge of the box into the top-left corner.
The win was secured, but James Hillson’s second-half clean sheet was under threat when he was forced to bring down an attacker for a penalty.
Hillson managed to redeem himself by saving the spot-kick and the referee blew the full-time whistle immediately afterwards at 4-1.
Other Match Notes
Alex Kirk put in a strong performance at centre-back, both with some strong tackles and also with one or two expert long passes forward into the channels.
It was also great to see an Arsenal team with so many technical players in midfield. With Cottrell, Patino, Azeez, and Bandeira, the team certainly didn’t look aimless in possession.
With new signing Mika Biereth still to join the side and a few quality wingers including the yet-to-feature Kido Taylor-Hart, things look promising going forward.
Biereth was in the stands watching the game, as were Catalin Cirjan, Salah-Eddine’s brother Ismail, and academy manager Per Mertesacker.
After the match, Norton-Cuffy took some photos with young fans, which was also a nice touch.
Arsenal u23 Lineup vs Ebbsfleet United
Starting Lineup (3-4-3)
Graczyk; Swanson, Kirk, Monlouis; Osei-Tutu, Bandeira, Azeez, Ogungbo; Hutchinson, Edwards, Oulad M’Hand
Hillson, Ejeheri, Lopez, Norton-Cuffy, Patino, Rekik, Cottrell