Myles Lewis-Skelly made his first start at u21 level as Arsenal drew 1-1 with Stoke City to remain top of their Premier League Cup group on Saturday.
After beating Burnley and Swansea City in their opening two games of the Premier League Cup group stage, Arsenal took on Stoke City at home on Saturday in their third of six group matches.
Mehmet Ali rotated heavily for the cup fixture, with James Hillson coming in as goalkeeper, Josh Robinson, Maldini Kacurri, and Myles Lewis-Skelly in defence, Bradley Ibrahim, Kido Taylor-Hart, and Ethan Nwaneri in midfield, and Joel Ideho, George Lewis, and Khayon Edwards in the front three.
That’s 10 changes from Monday’s game against AS Monaco, with centre-back Zach Awe the only player to keep his place.
Evidently, Tuesday’s upcoming EFL Trophy knockout game against Stevenage was at the forefront of Ali’s mind. That fixture congestion handed opportunities to some of Arsenal’s rotation players and a couple of future talents at the weekend.
Lewis-Skelly has reportedly been called up for Arsenal’s upcoming first-team training camp in Dubai, so he had plenty of motivation going into the game.
Young Ethan Nwaneri made his first-team debut earlier in the season, but this was just one of a handful of u21 appearances he’s made so far.
The 15-year-old was quickly involved in a fantastic chance, playing a through-ball to George Lewis, but Lewis couldn’t convert.
After a couple more half-chances, Arsenal had a major opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot. Kido Taylor-Hart did well in midfield before playing the ball through to Joel Ideho, who was brought down from behind.
Khayon Edwards stepped up to the spot and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, finishing into the bottom left.
In those opening 25 minutes, Arsenal dominated the match and suffocated Stoke with their press, leading to turnovers and further opportunities. But after that, the half started to turn.
Maldini Kacurri had to be alert to deny Stoke a counter-attacking opportunity, and the away side equalised minutes later, following a lax infield pass from Nwaneri.
Stoke started to have all the good chances, though the Gunners did have one further opportunity towards the end of the half as Myles Lewis-Skelly made a great run but Ideho failed to finish.
Unfortunately, things didn’t really change in the second half, Zach Awe gifted Stoke a golden opportunity losing the ball in his own area, forcing James Hillson into one of a number of second-half saves.
But Hillson wasn’t immune from the same kind of error, putting his teammates under pressure with his passes on a couple of occasions.
Arsenal’s only real sniff at goal came in the form of another penalty shout – handball, waved away – and a moment where Stoke defender George Lewis (no relation to the Arsenal man) almost turned a Taylor-Hart cross into his own net.
Things only got worse in the final minutes, as Khayon Edwards was stretchered off with what appeared to be an ankle issue.
Ultimately, Arsenal will be happy enough to have ended the match with a draw, as Stoke failed to take advantage of having the better second half.
Making his first u21 start, Myles Lewis-Skelly was undoubtedly the stand-out performer for Arsenal, consistently performing well against intense Stoke physicality and almost always either escaping with the ball or winning a free-kick.
The 16-year-old also made good decisions, bar one or two risky passes that perhaps hinted at his inexperience. Playing out of position at left-back (he’s usually a midfielder), it was a wonder he did as well as he did.
That was the good news, and Khayon Edwards’ injury was the bad news. There’s no word yet on the extent of the issue, but a leg brace and stretcher to get a player off the field is never a particularly good sign.
As for Arsenal’s position in the group, it’s still a strong one for now, but this draw gives Stoke an opening. If they can win against Arsenal at home, it’s in their hands to top the group in their other matches.
For now, Arsenal are still in control. They’ll travel away to Swansea next Saturday for their next group game, before playing the final two fixtures in mid-December.
Arsenal u21 lineup vs Stoke City
Hillson, Robinson, Kacurri, Awe, Lewis-Skelly, Ibrahim, Taylor-Hart, Nwaneri, Ideho, Lewis, Edwards
Monlouis (for Awe, 62), Bandeira (for Lewis, 62), Walters (for Robinson, 62), Vigar (for Edwards, 89), Fedorushchenko
As mentioned, Arsenal travel away to Stevenage for their EFL Trophy Round-of-32 clash on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, before continuing their Premier League Cup group stage with a match away to Swansea on Saturday at 14:00.
We’ll likely see a stronger u21 side in the EFL Trophy match, as the competition hands Arsenal’s top academy players the chance to test themselves against senior opposition.