Carl Jenkinson’s stoppage-time strike rescued a hard-earned point for Arsenal u23s during a 3-3 draw against Manchester City at the Emirates.
It was a thrilling encounter, one which had plenty of attacking flair and well-taken goals to go with it too. Both sides fielded strong teams and it was obvious given the respective quality that an end-to-end affair was on the cards.
Steve Gatting made two changes to the team that beat Tottenham 2-0 ten days before. Goalkeeper Ryan Huddart made a rare start while Jeff Reine-Adelaide started in place of Marcus McGuane.
The match started in full flow with both sides looking dangerous on the counter-attack. Jadon Sancho, who recently has been linked with a move to Arsenal, was lively in the early going alongside Brahim Diaz as they looked to unlock the Young Guns’ backline.
Donyell Malen and Reiss Nelson both came close to breaking the deadlock before City did just that at the other end. A slick passing move in the final third saw Thierry Ambrose apply the finishing touch from close-range.
Huddart was kept busy for large periods, forced into making a handful of saves throughout. City were eager to get on the ball in dangerous areas and despite Arsenal’s initial high pressing game, the visitors were able to pass through the spaces in midfield, stretching the Emirates turf to good effect.
This was emphasised to devastating effect when Ambrose netted his second of the evening. Ed Francis’ perfectly-weighted long pass was controlled neatly by the Frenchman, who flicked the ball past the onrushing Huddart and slotted home.
It was ruthless efficiency and as Ambrose wheeled away to celebrate, there were fears that players would drop their heads. City grew bolder and made good use of their opportunities, something Arsenal have struggled to do consistently in recent seasons.
To the hosts’ credit, they were motivated to put on a show for the energetic crowd. Nelson and Malen’s attacking combinations have proven troublesome for opponents in recent weeks, and this game was no different.
Malen halved the deficit just before the interval with a low drilled strike, having been set through with a smart pass by Nelson. It was a well-deserved goal for Arsenal’s efforts and sparked hopes of a spirited fightback in the second 45.
An encouraging second-half showing
Arsenal were much improved in the second-half and their passing more effective too. City’s attempts to contain and counter were dangerous but Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ fantastic sliding intervention denied a great goalscoring opportunity.
Then, just two minutes later, his tenacious play was pivotal during the build-up to Arsenal’s equaliser. He won possession high up the pitch and within seconds, the ball fell to the feet of Nelson inside the box. He slammed home with aplomb, leaving highly-rated goalkeeper Arijanet Muric helpless.
Cohen Bramall made a well-timed sliding tackle on Paolo Fernandes, just seconds before the winger was replaced. The inclusion of fresh legs in Isaac Buckley-Ricketts seemed to do the trick down the left as ten minutes later, he won a spot-kick after Bramall caught his man just a fraction too late. The referee had no choice but to point to the spot, with fellow substitute Lukas Nmecha sending Huddart the wrong way to reclaim City’s slender advantage.
Cameras then focused on Arsenal’s options off the substitutes’ bench. City’s attacking duo had already made an impact and with time running out, it seemed inevitable Gatting would make his own changes too.
Edward Nketiah and Marcus McGuane came on for the latter stages of this hectic encounter, with the former proving a handful given his acceleration and tireless workrate to regain possession. With five minutes of stoppage time to play, City looked to hold out defensively and did relatively well. Reiss Nelson though, had other ideas.
Nelson influential as Young Guns snatch late point
Still full of running, the winger continued to take players on in the final minutes with heavy legs and tiredness becoming a factor. His decision-making and positioning were two key things that set him apart in comparison to players like Chris Willock, who always seemed to take one or two touches too many when in dangerous areas.
Muric was forced into a sharp save in stoppage time but again couldn’t do much to stop Jenkinson’s effort from close-range – which stemmed from another determined burst forward by Nelson. Not content with a goal and an assist on the evening, the 17-year-old showed refreshing composure to advance forward once more and help create the Arsenal’s equaliser. He teed up Nketiah, who shrugged off Tosin Adarabioyo’s challenge before leaving space for Jenkinson to drive into the bottom corner.
Less than thirty seconds later, the full-time whistle blew.
Arsenal players and supporters collectively drew a sigh of relief after an unpredictable game which could’ve gone either way.
The result sees the Young Guns drop to 4th place after Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Chelsea. They will be hoping to finish the Premier League 2 season strongly, especially given improvements in recent months.