By Nik Brumsack at Anfield
Arsenal Under-21s were beaten for the second time in four days after going down 3-2 to Liverpool in a pulsating clash at Anfield.
Played in one of the world’s most iconic stadiums, the two sides produced an absorbing contest which Steve Gatting’s side did not deserve to come out on the wrong side of.
Adam Morgan struck first but Chuba Akpom continued his fine form in 2013 with a quick equaliser.
Krisztian Adorjan restored the lead on the hour before Serge Gnabry’s well-taken strike quickly brought Arsenal level.
Either side could have gone on to win it but it was the hosts who claimed the points when Morgan converted Adorjan’s cross from close range in front of the Kop.
Gatting made wholesale changes from the side that had been beaten at Southampton on Thursday, with Jernade Meade the sole survivor from that side.
Wojciech Szczesny, without a first-team appearance in over a month, started in goal behind the centre-half pairing of Sead Hajrovic and Isaac Hayden, whose impressive displays at the heart of defence in the NextGen Series had drawn plaudits from Terry Burton.
Nico Yennaris and Kris Olsson were deployed in central midfield while highly-rated German youth international Gedion Zelalem made his debut in midfield, where he was supported by compatriots Thomas Eisfeld and Gnabry.
Arsenal started in solid if unspectacular fashion. With both sides trying to stamp their authority on the game, chances were at a premium.
When Morgan did get through on goal, Szczesny raced from his goal to narrow the angle and blocked the shot with his body.
Arsenal replied and Zelalem came close to freeing Akpom before the striker saw a fierce effort blocked behind for a corner.
The breakthrough came midway through the first half.
Jordan Ibe raced clear of Hector Bellerin on the left and crossed low for Morgan to sweep clinically past Szczesny.
But Arsenal rallied quickly and replied just 100 seconds later.
Eisfeld swung in a free-kick from the left that Hajrovic met. The defender’s header bobbled around the Liverpool penalty area before Akpom pounced, sending in a shot that took a deflection on its way past Danny Ward.
Akpom has enjoyed a fruitful season and a goal at the Kop end was just reward for a committed and physical performance which posed plenty of problems for Liverpool’s backline.
After what had been a fairly cagey opening, the game now exploded to life. Szczesny held Adorjan’s close-range flick well before the striker saw a separate effort blocked after Suso’s sublime trickery had created the opportunity.
A highlight of the under-21s’ play in recent weeks has been their ability to open teams up with crisp and incisive passing.
That was displayed again here, with one particular move, engineered by the outstanding Kris Olsson, nearly finished by Bellerin. The full-back’s shot was saved by the legs of Ward before Meade blazed the rebound over on his weaker foot.
Gatting’s side began the second half in the ascendancy and thrice went close to taking the lead.
First, a move started by Hayden’s outrageous piece of skill ended with Gnabry’s touch letting him down after Zelalem’s reverse pass had put the forward through.
Then, Eisfeld cut in from the left before seeing a low drive palmed around the post by Ward.
Still the barrage of attacks continued.
Yennaris was the width of the post away from giving Gatting’s side the lead, latching on to Akpom’s pass before curling his shot against the frame of the goal.
Liverpool had just about managed to repel Arsenal’s attacking burst and began to grow into the half more as time elapsed.
Morgan drew a good save out of Szczesny before Akpom blocked Suso’s corner on the line, with the Liverpool players’ appeals for a penalty for handball waved away by the referee.
They were not to be denied for too long though and took the lead just after the hour when Adorjan ran clear of Hayden before rifling a shot into the top corner.
Not even 60 seconds later, they had a great chance to extend their lead but, after combining with Suso, Shelvey’s shot was blocked by Hajrovic.
But again Arsenal responded well to going behind, and drew level just three minutes after conceding with a goal of real quality.
Gnabry fashioned a yard of space for himself before sending in a shot that looped over Ward and nestled in the top corner.
The second half had ignited and a series of chances followed for both teams.
The potent Morgan went through but shot wide under pressure from Hajrovic, before Gatting’s team raced up the other end with Akpom’s deflected drive bouncing just wide.
Adorjan and Morgan had linked up well all evening. The former was intelligent off the ball and clever on it, while the latter had looked sharp in front of goal.
They combined to devastating effect with just under 15 minutes to play.
Adorjan powered his way down the right before sending in an inviting low cross that Morgan knocked past Szczesny from inside the six-yard box.
Having let the lead slip quickly on two occasions, Liverpool kept the ball diligently when in possession and worked hard to recover the ball promptly when Arsenal looked to attack.
Despite three minutes of added time, Gatting’s side could not summon a late opportunity and what would have been a deserved equaliser was not forthcoming.
- Yennaris (C)
- Akpom Goal!
- Eisfeld 67
- Gedion Zelalem
- Gnabry Goal!
- Ebecilio 67
- Alfred Mugabo
- Craig Roddan
- Connor Coady (C)
- Ryan McLaughlin
- Morgan Goal! Goal!
- Krisztian Adorjan Goal!
- Jordan Ibe
- Tyrell Belford
- Lloyd Jones
- Kristoffer Peterson