Former Gunner Tomas Rosicky was in attendance as the Arsenal u21s faced Sparta Prague in the Premier League International Cup on Wednesday.
The Arsenal u21s played their third game of the Premier League International Cup group stage on Wednesday night, taking on Sparta Prague u21s at Meadow Park.
This was likely in part due to first-team call-ups ahead of the trip to Dubai, but also simply to give other players a chance. Either way, the result was that Ali made six changes from the side that faced Swansea City in the previous game.
In other pre-match news, former Arsenal and Sparta Prague star Tomas Rosicky was watching on from the stands. He clearly wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to see his old clubs meeting up on the pitch, even if it was at u21 level.
Getting a rare chance in the team, Billy Vigar quickly made a positive impact, winning a free-kick with a strong run to get Arsenal up the pitch. But the opening minutes were short of many chances, as neither side looked able to break down the other.
Arsenal were the first to come close, with Josh Robinson sliding a through ball into Kido Taylor-Hart’s path in what was virtually a one-on-one, but his shot was saved.
Sparta Prague had a good opportunity of their own before half-time, with Hubert Graczyk making an excellent close-range save onto the post. Still, chances were at a premium in that first 45 minutes, which finished 0-0.
Joel Ideho looked lively after the break, and he had a shot from a good position deflected over the bar early in the second half.
But Sparta were starting to threaten, and it was only some excellent defending from a combination of Zach Awe and Robinson that avoided a near-certain goal in the 53rd minute.
In preventing that chance, Arsenal conceded a corner, and Sparta took full advantage of the set piece. Their initial chance was well saved by Graczyk, but the ball rebounded to Tomas Schanelec, who volleyed in for 1-0.
Mauro Bandeira went closest to a quick equaliser, curling a dangerous free-kick narrowly wide with the goalkeeper beaten.
Ideho also went close, just failing to hit the target after beating a couple of players on the dribble.
With Vigar going off around 15 minutes before the end, Arsenal kept making opportunities, but the lack of a natural striker was keenly felt.
Elian Quesada-Thorn put in a dangerous cross which no one was in the box to get on the end of, Bandeira curled a free-kick into a good area but centre-back Awe couldn’t connect, and substitute George Lewis missed a very late chance.
Ultimately, a frustrating night ended 1-0 to Sparta Prague, with the away side taking top spot in the group.
There were some positives to take from the match, notably the debuts of Seb Ferdinand, Osman Kamara, Matty Roberts, and Ismail Oulad M’hand for the u21s – with all four coming off the bench and looking bright.
Joel Ideho also really grew into the game and caused a lot of problems towards the end of the 90, and perhaps Arsenal needed to look to find him more often earlier on.
The main negative is that it looks very difficult to progress from the group now. Even seven points (Arsenal’s maximum possible total) may not be enough.
Only two teams progress automatically, with the two best third-place finishers from the three groups progressing as well, and it’s hard to see seven points achieving either target.
All Arsenal can do is beat Jong PSV in February and hope for the best.
Arsenal u21 lineup vs Sparta Prague
Graczyk, Robinson, Awe, Monlouis, Quesada-Thorn, Ibrahim, Henry-Francis, Bandeira, Taylor-Hart, Ideho, Vigar
Roberts (for Monlouis, 63), Ferdinand (for Robinson, 76), Lewis (for Vigar, 76), Kamara (for Taylor-Hart, 88), I. Oulad M’hand (for Henry-Francis, 88), Fedorushchenko, Brown
Some of the Arsenal u21s will go away with the first team to Dubai, with Myles Lewis-Skelly and Matt Smith almost certain to go after their recent involvement in first-team training.
The likes of Reuell Walters, Catalin Cirjan, and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji might also be good bets for a senior call-up, but that remains to be seen.
For those who stick around, the Arsenal u21s next face Burnley in the Premier League Cup at Meadow Park on Friday, December 9th at 19:00 GMT.
The u21s will then just have one further game against Stoke City on Sunday, December 18th at 12:00 GMT to close out 2022 – with the academy going on their winter break after that.