By Lloyd Webb at Villa Park
Serge Gnabry made his first Arsenal appearance of the season but could not prevent the under-21s’s seven-game unbeaten run from coming to an end against a resilient Aston Villa side on Monday.
The Germany youth international had not featured for the Gunners since returning from his loan spell with West Bromwich Albion, and was unlucky not to give Arsenal the lead during an entertaining first half in Birmingham.
Villa gained a foothold after the break, though, and it was Jerell Sellars who struck the winning goal on the hour mark, firing into the bottom corner.
Donyell Malen had a chance to salvage a point in stoppage time, but his strike rattled the post as Arsenal slipped to their first defeat since December.
Setting the Scene
In light of Friday’s FA Youth Cup semi-final first-leg tie at Manchester City, Steve Gatting made seven changes to his side for the under-21s’ trip to Villa Park.
Chris Willock, Ismael Bennacer and Kaylen Hinds were rested, while Gnabry started for the first time since returning from his loan spell with West Brom.
Elsewhere, Dan Crowley returned from suspension to face his former club while Marcus McGuane, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Tyrell Robinson all retained their places from the Youth Cup quarter-final victory over Liverpool.
The Gunners got off to a slow start and were very nearly a goal down inside the first minute when some shaky defending played Sellars through, but the forward dragged his strike wide.
Arsenal responded well though and came close to finding a breakthrough of their own but Crowley’s audacious lob from outside the box drifted the wrong side of the post.
The Gunners were in the ascendancy and soon had their best chance of the half when Gnabry dropped his shoulder, cut inside and fired inches wide.
Ryan Huddart had showcased his fine form with two reflex saves and Arsenal were indebted to the goalkeeper again before the break, when he made a superb stop to keep out Rory Hale’s curling strike.
As with the first half, the hosts came flying out the blocks and Kienan Davis thought he had finally got the better of Huddart, only for the striker to be ruled offside.
Davis’ influence was growing as the game went on and he went close again moments later, racing down the flank before crashing a shot off the post.
Villa continued to press and eventually their persistence was rewarded when Sellars found space and fired into the bottom corner from a difficult angle in the 63rd minute.
There was still time for drama late on. Robinson was denied by a goal-line clearance after he had sped down the left-hand side and Malen struck the woodwork, but the Gunners could not break down the resilient hosts on a frustrating night at Villa Park.
- Robinson 81
- McGuane 63
- Da Graca
- Reine Adelaide 63
- Dasilva 81
- Sheaf 63
- Johnson 63
Aston Villa U21
- Matija Sarkic
- Webb Yellow Card
- Sellars Goal!
- Rory Hale 75
- Toner Yellow Card
- Green 56
- Kienan Davis
- Abdo 63
- Victor Johannson
- Cowans 75
- Tom Leggett
- Callum O'Hare 63
- Corey Blackett-Taylor 56