Arsenal Under-21s continued their unbeaten start to the league season with a goalless draw against Fulham at Motspur Park on Thursday.
Steve Gatting’s side came into the game on the back of three wins, if you include their Youth League triumph in Marseille, but they found it difficult to break down a physically strong Fulham side.
The Gunners spent the majority of the second half defending and were indebted to an inspired performance from the returning Damian Martinez.
With a number of under-21 regulars called up for Capital One Cup duty the night before, Gatting was forced to ring the changes from the side that beat West Brom a fortnight ago.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jack Jebb were both given starts after impressing in the under-19s’ Youth League win in Marseille. Martinez returned in goal to make his first appearance of the season.
With Fulham first-team manager Martin Jol watching from the stands, it was the Cottagers who made the better start to the game and they should have taken an early lead. In the third minute Tom Richards was set free down the left channel before his cut-back picked out Moussa Dembele but Martinez did well to block his low shot from close range.
But after a nervy first 10 minutes the Gunners started to settle and find their passing game with Anthony Jeffrey and Alex Iwobi finding space to exploit on the flanks. And in the 22nd minute Iwobi missed a glorious opening when he latched onto a slide-rule pass from Austin Lipman but he could only shoot straight at Jesse Joronen.
Despite Fulham wasting a couple of half-chances, it was the visitors who were controlling possession but, like their hosts, found it difficult to create anything clear-cut. In the 36th minute Jebb came close with a low, skidding effort that whistled past Joronen’s far post.
The game was beginning to liven up and both sides exchanged decent openings in the final five minutes of the half. Dembele glanced just wide after meeting a searching cross from Josh Passley. Jeffrey then shaved the top of the bar in first-half stoppage time after a neat spell of passing between Glen Kamara, Jebb and Maitland-Niles.
The second half began as the first ended, with chances for both teams.
Iwobi spurned another opportunity when he poked wide from close range in the 50th minute. A minute later Fulham winger Buomesca Tue Na Bangna weaved past three Arsenal defenders and should have done better with his shot, despite being forced out to a tight angle.
Substitute Muamer Tankovic shot over just over on the hour and six minutes later Martinez showed superb athleticism to tip wide a Dembele volley as Kit Symons’ side started to take control.
The Gunners almost took the lead against the run of play after 68 minutes when Maitland-Niles found some space before unleashing a fierce left-foot drive that rattled the post and rebounded to safety.
Martinez made another important stop with nine minutes remaining when he parried Passley’s low drive as Fulham started to crank up the pressure.
The Spanish goalkeeper was called into action again three minutes later when he claimed an acrobatic effort by Tankovic.
But Arsenal held on for a hard-fought point and they have now kept a clean sheet in their last three league games.
- Maitland-Niles Yellow Card
- Jeffrey 82
- Smith 82
- Richards 77
- Minkwitz 61
- Tankovic 61
- Plumain 77