The Arsenal u23s surrendered a late lead to draw with Manchester City on Monday, ending their title hopes but showing some positive signs.
Coming up against league leaders Manchester City on Monday night, Arsenal knew that nothing but a win would keep their title chances alive.
Even a win would leave them needing City to lose both of their final games, West Ham to drop six points in four games, along with two Arsenal wins and a major goal difference swing. So there wasn’t much hope to begin with.
All the same, Arsenal had the chance to make one last impact in the Premier League 2 title race, and they certainly did that.
11 minutes into the game, Lino Sousa gave Arsenal the lead with a somewhat fortuitous finish from the left-hand edge of the area that caught the City goalkeeper out.
City quickly responded in the 18th minute, with Liam Delap beating an uneven Arsenal offside trap before finishing one-on-one with the goalkeeper for 1-1.
Mika Biereth almost gave Arsenal another first-half lead as he narrowly failed to connect with a dangerous Omari Hutchinson cross, but neither team to add to the scoreline before the break.
There were plenty of goals to come in the second half, and Biereth did eventually get his first of the game in the 53rd minute as he poked home a loose ball in the area from close range.
Miguel Azeez went very close to doubling the lead with an excellent free-kick that hit the post not long after that, and Hutchinson saw an effort just barely saved, but City were still proving threatening as Delap fired another shot narrowly wide at the other end.
Arsenal did get a third goal in the end, after Biereth was brought down for a penalty. With no real attempt to play the ball, Shea Charles was arguably lucky not to receive a red card for the last-man challenge.
Biereth stepped up to confidently convert the spot-kick, his 13th goal of the season, making it 3-1 with 12 minutes to go.
Sadly, there was a further twist to the tale. Delap scored a ridiculous effort from distance to make it 3-2 in injury time, and James McAtee scored a tricky half-volley a minute later for 3-3.
Arsenal could then have retaken the lead deep into stoppage time, but Biereth couldn’t complete his hat-trick after being set up well by Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, and the two teams had to settle for a draw.
“It’s just one of those – I’ve got to score it,” Biereth said afterwards. “It didn’t fall for me today but I’m not going to get too down about it, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of other chances to score more goals and I’m sure they’ll keep coming.”
Despite an encouraging performance, the end result means Arsenal can no longer finish top of the table, and they’re unlikely to catch West Ham United for second place either.
But a third-place finish ahead of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur is still in their hands with two games to go.
Reflecting on the u23s’ progress this campaign, following a poor season in 2020/21 and a damaging opening-day defeat in 2021/22, Kevin Betsy praised how the side had reacted to that.
“From a playing style perspective, so pleased with how well they’ve done,” Betsy said.
“From an individual development perspective, every single player we’ve had with us this season we feel has developed individually and obviously collectively as a group – so that’s also pleasing.
“In terms of league position, if you want to go with that, we are sitting third or fourth in the league. We’ve done so well compared to where we were at the beginning of the season when we lost 6-1 away at West Ham so that’s great.
“With the Academy, in terms of the Papa John’s trophy, we’ve reached the final stages of that – the only Academy team to do that.
“When you look at the season overall and reflect and review our performance I think we’ll be very pleased. Lots of things to do going forward though.”
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Manchester City
Graczyk, Kirk, Walters, Dinzeyi, Monlouis, Sousa, Henry-Francis, Azeez, Patino, Hutchinson, Biereth
Ejeheri, Butler-Oyedeji (for Hutchinson, 86), Roberts, Ideho (for Sousa, 79), Rekik (for Patino, 87)
Arsenal take on the Manchester United u23s at Old Trafford on Friday, April 22nd at 19:00 BST, in somewhat of a third-place play-off. A win in that game would guarantee Arsenal finishing above United, regardless of other results.