The Arsenal u21s won their opening Premier League Cup game with the help of first-team players Fabio Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe, and Cedric Soares on Wednesday.
The Arsenal u21s kicked off their Premier League Cup campaign against Swansea City on Wednesday night, but there were a few first-team additions to the lineup.
Fabio Vieira and Emile Smith Rowe are both returning from recent injuries, and they had the chance to build their fitness in the first half of the u21 clash. Cedric Soares, who hasn’t featured at all in Arsenal’s first two league games, got a full 90 minutes.
Arsenal have generally used the Premier League Cup to give chances to their rotation players, and Wednesday was no different.
Five u21 players were making their first starts of the season, in addition to the three senior players. So only three of the starting lineup had started one of the u21s’ opening two league games.
As a result, the team was a rather bizarre mix of first-team quality and u21 backups. U21 head coach Mehmet Ali was obviously hoping the two sets of changes would balance each other out.
Arsenal started the faster of the two teams, aided by a very strong right-hand side, where all three first-team players lined up. Cedric was at right-back, with Smith Rowe at right-central midfield and Vieira on the right-wing.
The trio linked up a few times in the early stages, with the highlight a clever chipped through ball from Vieira to Smith Rowe, whose square ball was cut out. It would have been a certain goal if Smith Rowe found his man.
But against the run of play, Swansea took the lead. There was major suspicion of handball as Joshua Thomas rounded the goalkeeper, yet the goal was given.
Before the 18-minute mark, Arsenal were level. Lino Sousa picked the ball up at left-back and threaded a through ball to Joel Ideho, who cut inside before finishing at the near post.
1-1, Sousa sets up Ideho who finishes nicely at the near post. pic.twitter.com/E1xVbZWehV
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) August 17, 2022
Arsenal continued to build on their momentum, and Smith Rowe and Vieira linked up for another chance. This time, Smith Rowe beat a couple of players and nutmegged another before Vieira’s shot was saved.
In the end, it was the third senior player who gave the Gunners a deserved lead. Sousa had won a free-kick with strong play on the counter-attack, and Cedric stepped up to curl it into the corner off the post.
Cedric makes it 2-1 with a free-kick! pic.twitter.com/TsbLwtORQ6
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) August 17, 2022
Perhaps there was some sort of karmic justice after that, as controversial handball goalscorer Joshua Thomas was sent off for Swansea following another foul on Sousa.
But though Arsenal had a fantastic chance to make it 3-1 and kill the game after that, they couldn’t capitalise.
As a shot looped over the Swansea goalkeeper, Vieira was running in ready to finish the chance. But it deflected off the crossbar and onto his head and away, a very unfortunate moment for the new signing.
Vieira had one more shot before the break, at which point he and Smith Rowe were both replaced by Catalin Cirjan and Mauro Bandeira.
The second half was much quieter, with Arsenal holding the lead and the man advantage but having lost their first-team players in attack.
The substitutes were bright sparks, however. Cirjan consistently took on and beat pressing players and went close with one shot at the near post, and Bandeira hit the post after nice play by Amario Cozier-Duberry.
Cedric and Ideho also had chances to extend Arsenal’s lead, but by the end, the Gunners were holding on a little to secure the three points.
In truth, Swansea didn’t have any serious chances, but the tension grew as Arsenal failed to add to their lead before the final minutes. Fortunately, they managed to see things out for a 2-1 win and a spot at the top of the group.
Vieira and Smith Rowe both showed glimpses of their quality in a solid first-half display, but at this stage, it’s more about building their fitness and match sharpness than anything else.
Together with Cedric, they brought another level to Arsenal’s display, which showed when the former duo went off at the break.
Arsenal’s lesser-utilised u21s didn’t do too badly, though, with Ideho catching the eye with his tricks on the wing and a nice goal, and Cirjan showing why he’ll probably soon be a starter again after his injury struggles.
Of the few u21 regulars to start on Wednesday, it was a very strong night for Lino Sousa and Miguel Azeez, arguably the two best players on the night.
Both will hope for senior opportunities this season, whether that’s at Arsenal or elsewhere.
Arsenal u21 lineup vs Swansea City
Hillson, Cedric, Foran, Awe, Sousa, Azeez, Cozier-Duberry, Smith Rowe, Ideho, Vieira, Butler-Oyedeji
Cirjan (for Smith Rowe, 46), Bandeira (for Vieira, 46), Jeffcott (for Sousa, 66), Akinola (for Azeez, 76), T. Smith
After this game was scheduled, Arsenal’s planned u21 fixture against Chelsea was moved from Friday night to Saturday, so that game will now be played on August 20th at 14:00 BST.
It will be a good test to play a Chelsea side who thrashed Wolves 7-1 in their opening fixture but are now looking to bounce back after a 3-0 defeat to Fulham.