By Isaac Moore at Rockliffe Park
Arsenal Under-21s lost their second league game of the season when they went down 3-1 to Middlesbrough at Rockliffe Park.
Benik Afobe gave the Gunners the lead after five minutes but two goals from Kei Kamara and a close-range effort from Faris Hanoun completed the turnaround.
Arsenal dominated for long periods of the game but a combination of lacklustre finishing and below-par defending allowed Middlesbrough to take all three points.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made four changes from the side that started the cup win over Fulham last week. Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill returned at left back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles replaced Ryo on the flank and Daniel Crowley earned his first competitive start at under-21 level.
Spaniard Julio Pleguezuelo partnered Semi Ajayi at the back with Isaac Hayden moving into midfield.
Arsenal immediately set about playing their passing game and took the lead in the fifth minute when Afobe intercepted a loose pass before rounding Boro keeper Jayson Leutwiler and slotting into an empty net.
The Gunners then missed two big chances to double their lead. First, Maitland-Niles combined with Crowley before rolling an effort just wide.
The winger then turned provider for Arsenal’s next chance when he sprinted past Jonathan Burn before finding an unmarked Kris Olsson in the box. The Swedish midfielder opted to take a first-time shot which cannoned off the crossbar and away to safety.
In the 21st minute Afobe spurned a glorious chance to net his second when he was put through on goal by Maitland-Niles. The forward took too many touches, giving Leutwiler the chance to come off his line and block.
The Gunners were punished for their missed opportunities on 23 minutes when Kamara was found unmarked in the Arsenal box and he headed past the helpless Matt Macey.
Maitland-Niles, who was Arsenal’s brightest player in the first half, went close in the 34th minute when he drove at the Boro defence before unleashing a fierce effort that was deflected wide.
The hosts took the lead a minute before the break when Kamara picked up possession on the edge of the box and took one touch before finding the bottom corner with a side-footed finish.
Middlesbrough got their third just two minutes into the second half. Arsenal failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to Faris Hanoun at the back post who made no mistake with his finish.
Arsenal continued to control possession for the remainder of the game but struggled to create many more clear-cut chances with the Boro defence proving difficult to break down.
As the game wore on the visitors had to throw more men forward which left Boro spaces to exploit on the counter-attack. In the 73rd minute Cameron Park found Luke Williams in space but Macey was quick off his line and made an excellent block.
Substitute Alex Iwobi created both of Arsenal’s best moments in the second half. The winger forced Leutwiler to tip the ball behind with a low effort before crashing an effort against the post just seconds later.
Hayden sent an effort over late on as Arsenal finished the game in the ascendancy - but it was an afternoon to forget for Gatting’s men.
- Crowley 60
- Afobe Goal!
- Iwobi 60
- Kieran Weledji
- Haroun Goal!
- Williams 74
- Park 87
- Kamara 90 Goal! Goal!
- Mark Kitching
- Waters 87
- Jones 74
- Kneeshaw 90