After an encouraging goalless draw away against Paris Saint-Germain’s u19 side last time out, Arsenal’s crop of talented youngsters were eager to kickstart their UEFA Youth League campaign with a home win over Basel on Wednesday.
This wasn’t the case in the end, with a controversial late penalty being comfortably dispatched by Neftali Manzambi in the dying embers of stoppage time at Meadow Park.
Despite a few shaky moments at the back in the early exchanges, Arsenal were comfortable in possession but were unable to fashion many opportunities on-goal before the interval.
The visitors took advantage of this to good effect, with Eray Cumart’s fantastic long-range effort leaving Hugo Keto helpless to stop the strike from rifling into the top corner. It was unexpected and equally unbelievable to say the least but Basel went into the break with a one-goal lead to protect, which was wiped away after just ten minutes.
After some good work on the right from Reiss Nelson, he unselfishly squared the ball into the path of Marc Bola in support alongside him. The fullback looked up, spotted the run of Vlad Dragomir, and fizzed an inviting ball towards the Romanian’s path.
With an encouraging showing against Chelsea last Friday, as well as a goal against Leicester the following day, it was clear that Dragomir was working hard to continually improve his skillset. Having spun past his marker and drifted past another defender, he kept his composure before slotting home from close-range to level the scoring.
In the absence of Krystian Bielik, replaced at half-time by Tolaji Bola with an injury, Arsenal’s backline seemed vulnerable and Kris da Graca in particular, who looked a weak link at the back, was mainly at fault for conceding a free-kick in a dangerous situation.
The resulting set-piece was well-struck by Dominik Schmid, forcing Keto into a low diving save, before the rebound fell to Yves Kaiser. The defender saw his effort swerve past the crossbar with Keto up quickly to react to the loose ball.
There was a return for Kaylen Hinds after a three-month injury lay-off, whilst talented schoolboy Trae Coyle came off the substitutes’ bench in the second-half. However, neither of them were able to make much of a significant impact in the closing stages and Basel’s fortunate penalty appeal was ultimately given by the referee when Manzambi’s attempted effort hit the hand of fullback Chiori Johnson.
Johnson moved in to try and block the shot with his back to Manzambi, but the referee pointed to the spot as Arsenal players looked on in disbelief. Despite Keto’s best efforts, Manzambi’s spot-kick was low and hard into the bottom corner – giving the visitors all three points in cruel fashion with just seconds left to play on the afternoon.
Dragomir was impressive, our reliance on the more prominent defensive players such as Bielik showed, but naturally we can only hope for a swift recovery after he was reportedly seen in an arm sling when watching the senior side’s 2-0 win over Basel yesterday. PSG thumped Ludogorets 8-1 in the other game in Group A, so the Young Guns will be eagerly anticipating a great opportunity to register their first win of the tournament this season in mid-October when they entertain the Bulgarian side.