By Joe Brewin at London Colney
Arsenal Under-18s produced a thrilling late turnaround to take all three points against Aston Villa at London Colney on Saturday.
Juan Serrano’s first-half header looked to have sealed victory for the visitors but late goals from Philip Roberts and substitute Zak Ansah sank Villa.
Arsenal’s first team have made a habit of fightbacks - and Steve Bould’s youngsters have clearly taken notice.
Bould was able to include the returning Isaac Hayden at the heart of defence alongside Elton Monteiro, while Chuba Akpom was handed a start in midfield.
Jeffrey Monakana, meanwhile, was back among the substitutes after featuring against the young Gunners for Crystal Palace earlier in the campaign.
Bould’s side were looking to avenge successive defeats to Chelsea and Leicester and started the game brightly.
Roberts sliced an early effort wide, before Jordan Wynter’s header from a Josh Rees corner was somehow diverted to safety by the Villa defence.
Wynter was on hand moments later at the other end of the pitch to deny Darious Darkin in a rare foray for the visitors in the opening 20 minutes.
Then came the best chance of the half. Roberts found Anthony Jeffrey in space through the middle, with Villa goalkeeper Brad Watkins forced into a fine save to deny the forward.
Hayden headed narrowly over from another corner, but it was the final opportunity for some time as the visitors finally found a foothold.
Reice Charles-Cook had been largely untested for the first 25 minutes but could do nothing to prevent Villa from taking the lead. Captain Serrano found space at the back post and squeezed his header over the line.
It was harsh on Arsenal who had controlled large parts of the half, but their rhythm had clearly been affected.
Bould’s youngsters struggled to find a response as the first half drew to a close but came within inches of finding an equaliser when another Hayden header clipped the crossbar.
Arsenal went into the interval behind and were subjected to more pressure early in the second half as Villa restarted brightly.
Callum Robinson drew a brilliant block from Monteiro inside three minutes, before Liam Bateman flicked narrowly wide from a troubling set-piece.
Good work from Jeffrey teed up Rees for an attempted lob which landed just over the crossbar.
It was end-to-end entertainment and the West Midlands outfit went close to doubling their advantage when Charles-Cook denied Jack Grealish with an excellent low save.
Wynter lashed over from range as the young Gunners hunted an elusive equaliser. Ideas were running dry but, while the score remained level, the game was open.
Arsenal turned up the heat in the final 20 minutes. Roberts saw a fierce effort inside the box well blocked for a corner, before Akpom’s dangerous cross was turned behind well by Josh Webb.
Rees called Watkins into action with another fine save after neat link-up play with Monteiro inside the penalty area.
Then came the decisive moment. Akpom was replaced by Ansah, whose impact off the bench proved pivotal.
The young striker was involved immediately to set up Roberts, who was once more denied by the excellent Watkins in the Villa goal.
But the visitors eventually relinquished. Jeffrey’s initial effort was palmed out only as far as Roberts, who was not to be thwarted on this occasion as he stabbed home inside the box.
With 10 minutes left it was game on. Rees went close with deflected effort five minutes later, but it mattered little as Arsenal did strike the killer blow.
In an almost carbon copy of its predecessor, Jeffrey was on hand once more to call Watkins into action, with Ansah doing the rest to sweep home the rebound.
Villa substitute Mason Watkins-Clark could have restored matters in the dying moments for Villa, but Bould’s side hung on for a hard-fought victory at Colney.
Under-18s: Arsenal 2-1 Aston Villa - Report
By Joe Brewin at London Colney