By Rob Kelly at Underhill
Hector Bellerin’s 90th-minute strike gave Arsenal Under-21s a hard-fought victory against Manchester United on Wednesday night.
In a low-key affair of few chances, the visitors took the lead in the 40th minute when Charni Ekangamene drilled home a superb strike from 25 yards.
But the Gunners’ response was immediate as Sanchez Watt played in Hector Bellerin in the area, and the right back was bundled over by Alex Buttner. The referee pointed to the spot, and Conor Henderson made no mistake with a firm drive down the middle.
The cultured midfielder hit the bar with a delightful free kick near the end, and also struck the cross that led to the winner.
To be fair to Bellerin, there was still much to be done as he raced in on the edge of the area, took a touch past a defender and blasted his shot into the corner. It was a moment of real quality and gave Arsenal a deserved victory.
Steve Gatting made five changes to the side that drew 1-1 with West Ham United on Friday, the most notable of which was the selection of Francis Coquelin in midfield. The France Under-21 international had not featured for the first team since the FA Cup defeat to Blackburn Rovers, but was given a chance to work on his match fitness at Underhill.
To be fair to Bellerin, there was still much to be done as he raced in on the edge of the area, took a touch past a defender and blasted his shot into the corner
Elsewhere, Craig Eastmond was named on the bench after recovering from a foot injury sustained while on loan at Colchester United.
Manchester United had not conceded a goal in five games prior to kick off, and named Holland Under-21 international Buttner in their backline. But there was no place for Nick Powell - who scored in the 2-2 draw between the teams last month - as he was away on international duty with England Under-19s.
The first half was a low-key affair, with the only chance of note in the opening exchanges coming when Henderson’s free kick was palmed out by Pierluigi Gollini. Watt tried to pounce on the rebound but could not quite twist his body enough to prod the loose ball into the empty net.
With both sides feeling each other out for much of the first half, chances were limited but just before the break two goals arrived in quick succession. The first, from United midfielder Ekangamene, was a beauty as he ran on to a loose ball on the edge of the area and crashed home a first time drive past a helpless Damian Martinez.
Moments later, though, Gatting’s side drew level as Watt twisted and tuned on the edge of the area and flicked the ball through for Bellerin. The Spanish right back was bundled over by Buttner in the box, and Henderson made no mistake with his spot kick to restore parity.
The second half remained scrappy, with both defences holding firm and neither side able to take a firm grip on the game. It was stalemate, but Arsenal had a great chance to snatch the lead in the 73rd minute when Henderson sent a powerful cross in from the left and Hayden skewed his shot wide from close range.
Watt and substitute Zak Ansah had half chances to snatch the points, but in each case they were denied just as they were about to pull the trigger by last-ditch clearances. Then, with seven minutes remaining, a wonderful curling free kick beat the keeper but clattered against the bar.
But as the game entered the final minute, Bellerin took centre stage as he blasted home the winner to secure Gatting’s side their second victory of the elite group stage.
- Miquel Yellow Card
- Bellerin Goal! Yellow Card
- Yennaris 64
- Henderson Goal!
- Watt 72
- Eastmond 64
- Ansah 72
Man Utd U21
- Ekangamene Goal!
- Buttner 46 Yellow Card
- McGinty Yellow Card
- Lingard Yellow Card
- Fornasier 46