By Nik Brumsack at New Bucks Head
Sanchez Watt struck in stoppage time to give Arsenal Under-21s a 3-2 victory in an entertaining clash against Wolverhampton Wanderers in Telford.
After Chuba Akpom had given Steve Gatting’s side a two-goal lead in the opening 45 minutes, the hosts hit back with a goal either side of Danny Boateng’s red card for a professional foul.
The young Gunners finished the strongeevar though and, after Akpom and Watt were denied, the latter won the game with seconds to go, sliding a shot under Aljaz Cotman.
This was the perfect way to end the under-21s’ final away game of the season and the resoluteness shown by his side will have pleased Gatting.
He made four changes to the team that had been beaten in Liverpool last week.
Wojciech Szczesny had started in that game but, with Lukasz Fabianski a major doubt for Tuesday's first-team game against Everton, the Arsenal No 1 was not named in the squad here. Damian Martinez took the gloves.
Boateng partnered Sead Hajrovic in central defence, while Jordan Wynter came into the side at right back, with Zak Ansah also recalled in front of him, on the right of a three-pronged attack.
Akpom and Serge Gnabry, who both scored last time out, also lined up in attack, with highly-regarded 16-year-old Gedion Zelalem again in midfield.
Elsewhere, Samir Bihmoutine, who has made nine appearances at this level for Arsenal this season, was named as a triallist for the home side.
Having previously gone four games unbeaten, Gatting’s side came into this game off the back of two successive defeats. They had been unlucky in both of those though. Last week’s see-saw encounter at Anfield could have gone either way, while it had taken a fine volley by Harrison Reed to give Southampton three points in Eastleigh four days earlier.
After a cagey opening, Arsenal worked a good chance to take the lead 12 minutes in.
Fine interplay saw the ball manoeuvred sharply between Gnabry, Olsson and Wynter, before the latter’s deep cross picked out an unmarked Akpom. The striker got underneath his header though, and put it over the bar from eight yards.
That aside, chances were scarce. Arsenal controlled possession, but with the hosts defending with 10 men behind the ball, found it hard to find space in the attacking third.
Wolves were disciplined but carried little threat going forward. It took them half an hour to carve out a meaningful opportunity of their own.
Bihmoutine’s pass slipped Sam Winnall clear of the defence. The striker advanced on goal but, under pressure from the retreating Boateng, saw his toe-poked effort comfortably dealt with by Martinez.
Gatting’s side had looked the more threatening and, as the half wore on, they began to turn their possession into chances, with Akpom, Olsson and Gnabry all providing a threat.
Akpom’s predatory form has been one of the stand-out positives of Arsenal’s campaign and he got the reward for Arsenal’s growing dominance after 37 minutes.
After a corner was not cleared properly, Nico Yennaris delivered a back-post cross that Hajrovic nodded into the path of the striker to sweep home from inside the six-yard box.
The goal had been coming and, buoyed by that strike, Akpom doubled his side’s tally just two minutes later with a finish of real quality.
An incisive team move ended with Olsson slipping the ball into the path of the striker, who flashed a shot emphatically beyond Cotman and in.
Arsenal began the second period as they had ended the first, and twice went close to extending their advantage yet further within seven minutes of the restart.
First, Olsson’s curler was well clawed over by Cotman. Not even 60 seconds later, Yennaris released second-half substitute Watt, but Cotman raced from his goal to block the striker’s effort with his knees.
Gatting’s side were in total control so it came as a shock when their lead was halved just before the hour.
Sam Whittall broke away down the right before crossing for an unmarked Winnall to power a header beyond Martinez from eight yards.
Three minutes later came a moment that changed the game.
Bihmoutine was played through on goal and was clipped by last-man Boateng just outside the area. The defender was sent off and, from the resulting free-kick, Lee Evans was unfortunate to see his shot clip the post on its way wide.
Arsenal initially coped well with the setback of losing a man, with Yennaris filling in at centre half.
But with just over 10 minutes to play, the hosts drew level.
Martinez’s punch lacked power and the ball dropped invitingly for Evans to head in.
Despite having a man less, Arsenal finished the stronger and stole the points with virtually the last kick of the game.
Having been denied minutes earlier, Watt broke through and slid his left-footed shot under Cotman from 12 yards to give Gatting’s team a victory they just about deserved.
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