The Arsenal u23s came from behind to draw with Leicester City on Monday night, with Omari Hutchinson getting his 15th goal contribution of the season.
Kevin Betsy named a much-changed Arsenal u23 side to face Leicester City on Monday, with five alterations to the team that took on West Bromwich Albion last time out.
Among the changes was the return of Arthur Okonkwo in goal, taking on the captain’s armband, and the promotion of star striker Khayon Edwards from the u18s – as we reported on the site over the weekend.
But some other changes were clearly enforced by absences, with the starting lineup lacking a single dedicated centre-back despite three of them starting in the previous game.
Instead, right-backs Zak Swanson and Reuell Walters had to fill in centrally (as they’ve done before), and Bradley Ibrahim made his first start for the u23s at right-back.
Perhaps those changes at the back led to some early nerves, as hosts Leicester City had the better of the early chances.
They ended up making that count with a goal from the penalty spot, after Okonkwo brought down Will Alves. Tawanda Maswanhise was on hand to convert the spot-kick.
At the other end, Omari Hutchinson was the player causing problems as usual. He created a couple of great chances around the half-hour mark, with his teammates just narrowly unable to convert.
Hutchinson got the reward for his performance just before half-time, with Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand playing him in behind on the left-hand side. The winger cut back onto his right foot before finishing low at the near post.
Arsenal could even have taken the lead in the final seconds of the first 45, but Khayon Edwards couldn’t get a firm connection on Miguel Azeez’s pass from close range.
The game was there to be won after the break, and Leicester took the match to Arsenal with another couple of chances. A Zak Swanson block and a strong save by Okonkwo kept the scores level.
Marcelo Flores went the closest for Arsenal in those early stages of the second half, forcing a save and a block, but the chances then died down until the final 15 minutes.
As Leicester made a last push to win the game, Okonkwo was on hand to make another save from a header after a corner, and Oulad M’hand then made a crucial last-ditch tackle to deny a one-on-one.
That stop was almost celebrated like a goal by the Arsenal players, as it ended up winning them an away point.
Arsenal are on a run of five games unbeaten in the Premier League 2, but only one of those results was a win. The other four matches ended in 1-1 draws, and Manchester City are starting to pull away at the top of the table as a result.
The gap is now nine points, albeit with Arsenal having a game in hand. The young Gunners are going to have to put together a consistent run of wins including a victory over City in early April to have any chance at the title.
The signs continue to suggest Omari Hutchinson will be crucial to any such run.
It’s clear why he’s now made the senior squad on four occasions since the turn of the year, and Monday’s goal was his 15th direct goal contribution of the u23 season. Even if Arsenal aren’t at their best, he can make something happen.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Leicester City
Okonkwo, Ibrahim, Swanson, Walters, Lopez, Henry-Francis, Azeez, S. Oulad M’hand, Hutchinson, Edwards, Flores
Hillson, Cozier-Duberry, Foran (for Flores, 87), Ideho (for Edwards, 70), Quesada-Thorn
There’s a tight turnaround for the next game, as the Arsenal u23s host Liverpool at Meadow Park on Friday, February 25th at 19:00 GMT.
Liverpool are floundering in the bottom half of the table, so it should be a very winnable fixture, but Arsenal slipped up badly in the away matchup to lose 3-0. They’ll be looking to put that right on Friday.