Arsenal Under-19s began their Youth League campaign with an emphatic 4-1 win over Marseille Under-19s at The Marcel Cerdan Stadium on Wednesday.
Alex Iwobi put the Gunners in front inside the first 10 minutes before Serge Gnabry’s second-half brace put them in cruise control. A bizarre Deyan Iliev own goal gave Marseille a glimmer of hope but Jack Jebb sealed the three points for Arsenal with 14 minutes to play.
The sides met at the same venue last season in the NextGen Series on a difficult pitch. A stoppage-time winner gave the hosts victory but with both coaches fielding vastly different teams, this game had a certain fresh feeling to it and Arsenal made sure that history did not repeat itself.
Steve Gatting had a relatively strong squad at his disposal for the game despite having three schoolboys in his travelling party. Gnabry started as a lone striker and was supported from the flanks by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Iwobi. Deyan Iliev returned to play in goal at the ground where he made his academy debut last season.
Gatting talked before the game about the experience his side will gain from travelling with the first team and learning about different styles of European football. But he also stressed the team are not taking part in the Youth League just to make up the numbers - they are in it to win. And in the eighth minute the Gunners got off to the perfect start.
Maitland-Niles did well to poke the ball through to Iwobi after an untidy scrap for possession in midfield. The winger’s first touch was sublime and he coolly slotted past Florian Escales.
Arsenal were good value for their early lead and were bright and inventive in possession. Glen Kamara almost doubled the visitors’ advantage when he saw a clearance rebound off his outstretched leg and fly inches wide in the 18th minute. Moments later Kris Olsson went down under Stephane Sparagna’s challenge right on the edge of the area but referee Miroslav Vitkovic waved away the captain’s appeals for a penalty.
As the half wore on Marseille started to feel their way into the contest with some neat spells of passing without causing a major threat. Fode Guraissy tried a shot from a tight angle but Iliev’s positioning was good and he made a comfortable save.
But the hosts went close to an equaliser seven minutes before half-time. Thomas Ephestion picked the ball up midway in the Arsenal half and unleashed a fierce strike with his left-foot that rebounded off the inside off the post and away to safety.
The first opening of the second half came for the French side in the 49th minute when Guirassy fired a shot over from close range after Michel Araai did well to make space for a cross.
In the 55th minute Arsenal doubled their advantage. Iwobi was involved again when he found Olsson who then cut the ball back for the waiting Gnabry to fire into a gaping net.
It got better for Arsenal four minutes later when the rampant Gnabry added his second - but he had Jebb to thank for it. The midfielder latched onto a long ball forward and held the ball up superbly before releasing the onrushing Gnabry who fired his shot past the dive of Escales and into the far corner.
Marseille pulled a goal back with 15 minutes to go after when Iliev miscued a backpass into his own net.
But his blushes were somewhat spared a minute later when Jebb deservedly got in on the act to restore the Gunners’ three-goal cushion. Olsson floated in a free-kick which Escales fumbled into the path of Jebb and the midfielder made no mistake, firing into an empty net.
It was a fine performance from the youngsters to cap an excellent start to their Youth League campaign in the south of France.
- Ormonde-Ottewill 82
- Maitland-Niles 86
- Jebb Goal!
- Iwobi Goal!
- Gnabry 73 Goal! Goal!
- Hinds 86
- Wright 82
- Lipman 73
- Gimenes 66
- Dogoui 60
- Lopez 66