By Nik Brumsack at County Ground, Lancashire FA
A sparkling performance by Thomas Eisfeld helped fire Arsenal Under-21s to victory over Bolton on Bonfire Night.
The German, back in the side after missing last week’s clash with Blackburn due to first-team commitments, gave Arsenal an early lead with a powerful finish from inside the area.
Chuba Akpom doubled the advantage from the penalty spot before former Rangers winger Gregg Wylde pulled one back in an action-packed first half.
There were no further goals in the second half as Arsenal made it three wins in four games.
Terry Burton made six changes to the side that drew against Blackburn last week. Eisfeld and Jernade Meade were back in the team after making their first-team debuts in last week’s remarkable win over Reading in the Capital One Cup. They were joined by Damian Martinez, who had also appeared in the win at the Madejski, and Hector Bellerin and Nico Yennaris, who were unused substitutes in the game.
Elsewhere, Akpom was recalled in place of Nigel Neita, while Martin Angha and Sead Hajrovic continued at the heart of the defence.
On Guy Fawkes Night, it was fitting that Arsenal got off to an explosive start.
Crisp and incisive passing moves had already resulted in Bolton goalkeeper Rob Lainton denying both Akpom and Yennaris before Eisfeld gave the visitors the lead after six minutes.
Bellerin crossed for Akpom, who chested the ball down into the path of the German. There was still a lot to do but Eisfeld accelerated past his marker before unleashing a fierce drive that nestled in the far corner.
The slick combination play employed by Burton’s men was causing the Bolton defence all sorts of problems so it came as no surprise when they doubled their lead 19 minutes in.
Akpom charged into the area before colliding with Andy Kellett. The referee pointed to the spot and the England Under-19 international made no mistake, sending Lainton the wrong way.
Bolton - watched by new manager Dougie Freedman - had been outplayed and outfought in the opening 20 minutes, but Akpom’s strike woke them up and they pulled a goal back just two minutes after conceding.
Wylde had been the hosts' biggest threat with his piercing runs and searing pace a constant worry for the Arsenal backline. And the ex-Rangers winger emphasised that when he was freed through the middle, showing a burst of pace to escape Angha before slotting through Martinez’s legs.
In what was an extremely open first 45, both sides continued to trade chances - Martinez was twice called upon to deny Sanmi Odelusi before Toral’s exquisite backheel required a good stop from Lainton at the other end.
Akpom proved a handful all evening and came close to extending the lead just after the break - albeit in fortunate fashion. Isaac Hayden’s block tackle saw the ball ricochet into the striker’s path. He embarked on a powerful run that took him clear of both the Bolton defence and Lainton, but was denied his second of the game by Alex McQuade, who cleared the eventual shot off the line.
The game was becoming evermore stretched - with Arsenal threatening time after time. Unfortunately for Burton they couldn’t find a third goal, despite the best efforts of both Hayden and Akpom, who ensured Lainton was kept busy.
With Bellerin extinguishing the threat of Wylde, Bolton were in need of a new threat. They found it in the form of Michael O’Halloran, who ran from deep to charge through the Arsenal defence and force a fine save by Martinez.
Eisfeld continued to shine, engineering numerous counter-attacks as Arsenal threatened to make the game safe.
And while they didn’t find a third goal their play had perhaps deserved, stout defending ensured that the hosts did not create any more meaningful opportunities of their own.
- Hayden Yellow Card
- Olsson 57
- Eisfeld Goal!
- Toral 76
- Akpom Goal!
- Bihmoutine 76
- Rees 57
- Blakeman Yellow Card
- Wylde Goal!
- O'Halloran 79
- Maher 79