By Rob Kelly at the Madejski Stadium
An injury-time equaliser by the son of Arsenal legend Martin Keown meant Arsenal Under-21s had to settle for a share of the spoils against Reading on Sunday.
Goals from Nigel Neita and Thomas Eisfeld had seemingly put Terry Burton’s side on course for a hard-fought victory at the Madejski Stadium.
In their final match in National Group One of the Under-21 Premier League, they delivered a composed performance. Neita gave them the lead in the 31st minute, before Reading midfielder Tariqe Fosu brought the hosts level at the start of the second half.
But Arsenal remained the better side and the clinical Eisfeld swept in a 65th-minute strike after a fine pass from Toral. But with just seconds left of the game, Niall Keown forced the ball over the line from close range to snatch a point for Reading.
It made no difference to Arsenal’s progression to the Elite Group Stage, and if they continue in their vein they will prove more than a match for anyone.
It was a cold afternoon in Berkshire, but there was a first start of the season for Zak Ansah since his recovery from the knee injury he sustained in March. Elsewhere, Damian Martinez returned to the side at the expense of James Shea, Samir Bihmoutine replaced Ignasi Miquel and Eisfeld came in for Jernade Meade.
Arsenal started brightly, and had the ball in the back of the net after just four minutes through Eisfeld, but it was ruled out for offside.
With both sides committed to a passing game, it was an attractive game to watch although the opening exchanges had little in the way of clear-cut chances. In the 21st minute Ansah had an sight of goal after meeting Hector Bellerin’s cross from the right, but his volley drifted harmlessly wide.
Bellerin remained a real threat though, and used his pace to terrorise the Reading pair of Shane Griffin and Jordan Obita. When the Gunners finally did break the deadlock, it came as no surprise to see the pacy Spaniard at the heart of the move.
Bellerin strode forward purposefully from the back, played a one-two with Kriss Olsson on the edge of the area but could not control the ball back to him. However, the loose ball fell into the path of Neita, who coolly slotted it into the far corner.
The goal seemed to have an immediate effect on Neita’s confidence, and moments later he embarked on a powerful run from the halfway line into the Reading box, but his cut back was cleared.
The hosts really should have drawn the game all square though when, seconds later, Nick Arnold burst up the right flank and crossed for Tariqe Fosu. The midfielder was eight yards out and had the goal gaping, but drilled a firm effort wide of the near post.
But Burton’s side remained in control and could have extended their lead in the 38th minute when Bellerin once more escaped down the right and stood up a good ball to the far post. Ansah rose but couldn’t make contact, while Jon Toral saw his follow-up effort blocked.
Reading started the second half with a bit more purpose, and got their reward in the 55th minute when Obita curled in a lovely ball from the right and Fosu headed past Martinez to equalise.
It was a jolt to the system and Arsenal responded impressively, with Olsson weaving his way into the area and seeing his cross nearly fly into the net off the boot of Arnold.
From the resulting corner, Monteiro rose highest at the far post and knocked it down across goal to Mugabo. But the 17-year-old’s poked effort from close range was pushed around the post by Henly.
Eventually the pressure told in the 65th minute as Toral got into space on the right and played a lovely ball into the onrushing Eisfeld, who swept it high into the roof of the net.
Minutes later Arsenal had a major shout for a penalty turned down as substitute Chuba Akpom raced through on goal and rounded Henly. He appeared to be dragged back by a covering defender as he shaped to slot the ball into the empty net, but the referee waved play on.
Reading came back at the visitors though, and Damian Martinez made a sharp stop in the 75th minute to keep out Dominic Samuel’s shot after the striker had been played clean through.
Bellerin and Ansah both went close in quick succession during the closing stages, but Keown’s injury-time strike meant Arsenal had to settle for a share of the spoils.
- Neita 63 Goal!
- Alfred Mugabo 86
- Eisfeld Goal!
- Hajrovic 86
- Akpom 63
- Niall Keown Goal!
- Shane Griffin 63
- Tariqe Fosu Goal!
- Jordan Obita
- Craig Tanner
- Sean Long 63
- Dan Lincoln
- Josh Webb
- Liam Kelly