By Nik Brumsack at Bull’s Cross
A brace from in-form striker Chuba Akpom was not enough to stave off a north London derby defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Akpom had given Steve Gatting’s Arsenal side an early lead, confidently firing home from the edge of the box.
But the game turned on its head in the space of two first-half minutes as first Zeki Fryers and then Laste Dombaxe put the home side in front.
Jack Munns made it three 10 minutes after the restart before Akpom grabbed his second midway through the second half.
Substitute Josh Rees went close to levelling late on before Munns sealed the win in injury time.
Arsenal showed flashes of inspiration but they left Bull's Cross still in search of their first win in the Under-21 Premier League elite group.
Gatting made three changes from the team that drew at Manchester United last time out. Hector Bellerin came in at right back, while Kris Olsson and Zak Ansah also made their return to the starting line up.
This game marked a the perfect opportunity for Bellerin, Olsson, Isaac Hayden and Akpom to avenge the disappointment of the defeat to Everton in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup on Monday night.
Gatting’s side started the game well enough. They were committed, strong in the tackle, and dangerous on the counter.
Akpom went through early on but saw his shot well saved by Jonathan Miles in the Tottenham goal. But just minutes later, the striker did give Arsenal the lead.
Hayden won the ball midway inside the home side’s half before finding Gnabry. The German looked up and delivered an inch-perfect pass to Akpom who, after taking a touch, fired an unstoppable shot into the far corner.
The early strike enhanced the confidence of Gatting’s team. They hassled their opponents and gave them no time on the ball. And it was that tenacity that almost led to a second goal after 16 minutes.
This time it was Gnabry who capitalised on a loose pass in the Tottenham half. He ran down the right flank before crossing for Akpom, who volleyed against the crossbar. The rebound fell to Ansah, but Miles diverted the forward’s effort away with his feet.
Just seconds later, Ansah was presented with another opportunity. He advanced into the area but, having got clear of the defence, could only drag his shot wide.
There had only been one team in it, so it came as a shock when the hosts equalised just before the half hour. Zeki Fryers intercepted Gnabry’s pass on the edge of his own box before side-footing a shot past Lukasz Fabianski and in.
Just two minutes later, Tottenham were ahead. Munns burst into the area before going down under Ignasi Miquel’s challenge. The referee duly pointed to the spot and Dombaxe sent Fabianski the wrong way.
It was harsh on Arsenal who, for all their positive play, had paid the ultimate punishment for two moments of sloppiness.
Suddenly, the confident swagger with which Arsenal had maneouvered the ball disappeared. The pressing, while still evident, didn’t have the same intensity as before.
Tottenham sensed this and began to dominate the latter stages of the first period. Dean Parrett came close to adding to the lead when he fizzed a free kick just wide of Fabianski’s goal.
You sensed that Arsenal needed the half-time whistle, and they began the second period brightly after 15 minutes of respite.
Miquel charged forward from the back after 49 minutes, but his pass was just too heavy for Akpom.
Then Gnabry showed Fryers a clean set of heels down the right but saw his fine arrowed effort from the edge of the area matched by an equally good diving save.
Despite those opportunities, it was Tottenham who scored next.
Kenneth McEvoy raced to the byline before sending in a cross that was only partially cleared. The ball fell to Munns inside the penalty area and the striker clinically swept home.
The performance of Akpom had yet again been a bright spark in Arsenal’s performance. He was strong-willed, physical and worked hard in the lone striker’s role.
And the clinical edge to the 17-year-old’s play was again in evidence when he outmuscled Giancarlo Gallifuoco before toe-poking past Miles to net his fifth goal in his last three games and bring Gatting’s team right back into the match.
The under-21s continued to battle and almost drew level late on as substitute Rees sprang the offside trap before sending in a shot that Miles superbly tipped wide.
But with Arsenal looking for an equaliser, the hosts broke up the other end and made the game safe when Munns tapped in from close range.
There was still time for Akpom to have a shot cleared off the line and Hayden to head against the woodwork - but those two near-misses summed up Arsenal’s luck.
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