The Arsenal u23s returned to winning ways against Tottenham Hotspur on Friday, keeping vague hopes of a title challenge alive.
Arsenal saw a few players returning from injury against Spurs on Friday, with Mika Biereth starting up front, Mazeed Ogungbo at centre-back, and James Olayinka in midfield.
Biereth and Ogungbo are key players in the current side, and Olayinka’s return was particularly important in the absence of suspended Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand, so that was all good news for Arsenal.
On the other hand, Zak Swanson and Zach Awe were both missing, presumably as they continue to make up the numbers in the senior squad, and Charlie Patino is out injured.
Within 16 minutes, Arsenal had the opening goal of the match. Jack Henry-Francis made a committed tackle in midfield which sprung Biereth in on goal.
Biereth unselfishly squared for Marcelo Flores to tap into an empty net.
Arsenal u23s’ opening goal vs Spurs, scored by Marcelo Flores and assisted by Mika Biereth.
Unselfish from Biereth, who really improves the team when he plays. Flores also doing really well at u23 level. pic.twitter.com/iIQuJi06AG
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) March 4, 2022
Not long after that, Arsenal doubled their lead, though there’s some debate over the scorer.
After Arsenal won the ball high up the pitch once again, Omari Hutchinson played Flores in behind. Flores drove a low cross into the six-yard area, where Spurs defender Tobi Omole appeared to turn it into his own net.
But Biereth was in close proximity and currently has the official credit for the goal, and replays are inconclusive – he may well have touched it.
Arsenal u23s’ second goal vs Spurs, an own goal, Biereth looks a bit annoyed it was taken off him. Flores’ cross made it. Spurs have since pulled one back, so it’s 2-1. pic.twitter.com/soy2xvWQ8l
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) March 4, 2022
Regardless of the scorer, Arsenal briefly had a two-goal lead, until Spurs’ Alfie Devine pulled one back in the 32nd minute. The Gunners’ defence backed off for too long and Devine took advantage.
After that, a lot of the emphasis was on Hubert Graczyk’s goalkeeping to keep Arsenal in the lead. He made a key save from Dane Scarlett before half-time, and a number of other stops after the break.
Centre-back Alex Kirk also had to be alert to clear a Scarlett shot off the line at one point.
At the other end, Hutchinson, Flores, and Biereth continued to cause problems throughout, without managing to add a third goal.
The threat they posed did eventually reap rewards, however, as Hutchinson played a ball around the corner to get Biereth in behind. As Biereth attempted to run free, he was dragged down by Matthew Craig, who was shown a second yellow and dismissed.
That made the job even more difficult for Spurs, who couldn’t break down a stubborn Arsenal defence in the dying minutes.
In terms of the table, Arsenal are now seven points behind league leaders Manchester City with five games remaining.
The young Gunners still have City to play at home, and they’d need a win in that game to have any chance, but it’s still a long shot right now.
Assuming the credit for the second goal remains with Biereth, he is now at 20 direct goal contributions for the season, his first campaign with Arsenal and his first at u23 level. That’s an excellent return and very much representative of his strong performances.
Similarly, it’s another goal and assist for Flores, who has six goals and assists for the u21/23s and a further 12 for the u18s. He’s making a real impact since stepping up.
Graczyk deserves praise for his performance in the win too, making some key saves. The 19-year-old is a very good shot-stopper, and he certainly needs to take his chances while Karl Hein and Arthur Okonkwo are away on loan and with the first team.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Spurs
Graczyk, Lopez, Walters, Ogungbo, Kirk, Azeez, Henry-Francis, Olayinka, Flores, Biereth, Hutchinson
Hillson, Sousa, Ibrahim (for Olayinka, 75), Butler-Oyedeji (for Flores, 90+3), Ideho (for Hutchinson, 90+3)
The Arsenal u23s are next involved in the Premier League Cup knockout stages, travelling away to Middlesbrough on Wednesday, March 9th at 18:00 GMT.
Kevin Betsy’s side don’t play another Premier League 2 game until they face Blackburn Rovers at home on Monday, March 14th at 19:00.