By Isaac Moore at the Merseyrail Community Stadium
Arsenal Under-21s suffered their third consecutive league defeat when Everton beat them 2-1 on Thursday night.
Magaye Gueye netted a goal at the beginning of each half before Ainsley Maitland-Niles gave Arsenal hope with a neatly-taken effort. But Everton held on for the win.
The Gunners had the lion's share of possession but were left to rue a lack of a cutting edge in the final third.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made three changes from the side that lost narrowly at Bolton on Monday. Kris Olsson recovered from an illness to replace Glen Kamara in midfield and Maitland-Niles came in for Gedion Zelalem.
Elsewhere, Chuba Akpom shook off a hamstring injury to start ahead of Zak Ansah up front.
This was Arsenal's second trip to the North West inside three days as they tried to claw back points from the handful of games in hand they had on the teams above them.
Before the game, Gatting and Thomas Eisfeld has both hailed the team's display at the County Ground. But the young Gunners needed to start earning points as well as praise if they were to secure a top-half finish.
Everton started on the front foot and went close to taking the lead inside a minute when Chris Long steered an effort just past the top corner.
But the Toffees did take the lead just four minutes later when Gueye crashed a free-kick from 25 yards past Matt Macey.
It could have got worse for Arsenal in the eighth minute when Long again found himself within shooting range and his piledriver had to be pushed over by Macey.
In the 17th minute, Semi Ajayi gave possession straight to Conor McAleny, who needed no further invitation to shoot. His low effort crept just wide of Macey's despairing dive and went behind.
Arsenal's first real opening came in the 26th minute when Eisfeld drove into the box before his cut-back found Akpom, but the forward decided to take a touch instead of shooting first time and he was eventually crowded out by the Everton back line.
Guaye struck his and Everton's second inside the first three minutes of the second half. Arsenal failed to clear their lines and the forward picked up the loose ball and drilled a low effort past Macey and into the far corner.
Arsenal tried to respond with Eisfeld and Olsson both sending long-range efforts wide of the target.
The home side should have put the game beyond Arsenal on the hour mark when substitute Calum Dyson nodded wide Luke Garbutt's corner. Conor Grant then had a shot saved by Macey moments later.
Arsenal found a way back into the game midway through the second period when Olsson picked out Maitland-Niles, who calmly slotted into the bottom corner.
The goal brought Arsenal to life and they should have been level three minutes later. Maitland-Niles sent Eisfeld through on goal but the German blasted his effort high and wide.
Gatting's side poured forward in the final minutes but struggled to muster any more chances.
- Maitland-Niles 84 Goal!
- Ansah 84
- Curtis Langton
- Gueye Goal! Goal!
- Long 84
- McAleny 39
- Mateusz Taudal
- Duffus 84
- Calum Dyson 39