Terry Burton's U21 side played their first match in the reformatted reserve league against Bolton tonight.
After dominating much of the first half, Arsenal were dealt a major blow when goalkeeper Emi Martinez was deservedly shown a red card after bringing down Bolton's striker, who had just rounded him. The penalty was duly dispatched and the half finished 1-0 to the visitors.
Some Terry Burton words of wisdom must have done the trick at the interval, as his side came out almost rejuvenated in the second half, and didn't have to wait long for the equaliser.
Young German midfielder Thomas Eisfeld continued his impressive goalscoring record for the Gunners with a tap in after some tidy play between Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom - which resulted in the latter striking the woodwork.
Eisfeld seems to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time, as he showed tonight and also with his goals during the pre-season tour of Asia.
Conor Henderson then exhibited his expertise from dead ball situations, firstly with a superb free kick to make it 2-1, and then a thumping penalty to give the Gunners a two goal cushion.
The team showed tremendous character against a physical Bolton side, who had a man advantage for most of the game. Burton will be delighted with the response of his players after half time, and they obviously listened to what he had to say. Next up for the U21s is Blackburn on Saturday, which is also at The Emirates.
Player Focus (on most influential performers):
The young goalkeeper was excellent after replacing Martinez in goal, at the expense of Kris Olsson. His first involvement was to pick the ball out the back of the net from a penalty but numerous impressive saves followed. Most notably, a double save Wojciech Szczsney would have been proud of. The ball was cut back to Bolton's striker and from no more than 10 yards out, shot straight at the keeper, who sprung to his feet instantly to block the rebound. First team goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton will have been impressed.
The Barca import played at right back today, and struggled defensively at times. He grew in confidence as the game progressed, however, offering more of an attacking threat. Having said that, he missed a glorious opportunity to give Arsenal the lead, after great work from Gnabry on the right.
Yennaris was deployed in central midfield, his natural position, and in my opinion was Arsenal's man of the match. Having performed for the first team on three occasions - including a match against Manchester United - Yennaris added real composure to the Arsenal midfield.
He did the simple things excellently - which is easier said than done. He broke up play, distributed possession adroitly and made a couple bursting runs forward. For a man so small he is deceptively strong - particularly in his upper body, and was not afraid to put himself about. While most of the plaudits will be aimed at Conor Henderson and Serge Gnabry, I thought Yennaris delivered a stellar performance this evening.
"He's so good to play with", says Chuba Akpom, "he works hard and plays simple football".
The fulcrum in the side, Henderson cemented his impressive performance with two goals from dead ball situations, most notably a curling free kick from 20 yards out.
An excellent passer of the ball, my only criticism - which I have noted after watching him in all the reserves' pre season friendlies this year - is that he tries to force play too often, constantly searching for the killer ball. As the saying goes, "football is simple yet the hardest thing to do is playing simple football". Nonetheless, Henderson played well.
Another fine performance from the 17 year old German, whose bullish runs and deceptive trickery are becoming somewhat of a trademark. He displayed his dexterity as a winger with an excellent first time cross with his weaker left foot in the first half, followed by some great pieces of movement to spin in behind the opposing full back.
The mouths of the 4,000+ Arsenal fans were watered after a scintillating piece of skill by Gnabry in the second half, where he rode a tackle and then, in the blink of an eye, turned magnificently past three defenders and delivered a dangerous cross.
Like his compatriot, Eisfeld impressed again, despite struggling to impose himself on the game in spells. He demonstrated his tremendous technical ability on numerous occasions, for example a little burst of pace from midfield followed by a Fabregas-esq scooped through ball which almost created a goal for Akpom.
Again, he tended to drift inside from his wide right position, suggesting he is most comfortable when operating centrally. He scored the equaliser and was one of Arsenal's most dangerous attackers, so will have impressed the onlooking Arsene Wenger.
As ever, 16 year old Akpom delivered an industrious performance, and deserved a goal. Despite several cynical fouls from behind, leaving his ankles "destroyed", the striker continued to hassle and harry, and displayed his willingness to run in behind.
In the opening stages, Akpom played a cute reverse ball into Gnabry and the German should have scored. But for a fine last ditch tackle from Bolton's Niall Maher, Akpom would have given Arsenal the lead, and was unlucky not to score later on after his shot hit the post - only for Eisfeld to convert the rebound.
Akpom played to his strengths and has made huge progress in the last couple months. Evidently, he is making a firm impression on Terry Burton.
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