By Nik Brumsack at Weston Homes Community Stadium
Arsenal’s youngsters' pre-season preparations concluded with a 5-1 defeat at League One side Colchester United on Tuesday.
On a tough evening for Steve Gatting’s side, the Drey Wright-inspired hosts raced into a three-goal lead before the break to effectively end the game as a contest.
And despite a spirited second-half showing that saw Chuba Akpom net from the spot, the young Gunners were second best to their more experienced hosts for large parts of the night.
To compound matters, Damian Martinez was replaced with an injury early on before Isaac Hayden was sent off midway through the second half.
Still, this was a good test for Arsenal from which they can learn ahead of the new under-18 and under-21 seasons which start over the course of the next week.
Gatting made five changes from the team that was comprehensively beaten at Luton Town 10 days ago. Hayden and Gedion Zelalem were back just three days after representing the first team in Helsinki. There were also recalls for Martinez, Akpom and Anthony Jeffrey, while triallist Ramy Bensebaini started at centre half.
Having conceded seven last time out, Gatting will have been keen for his side to start brightly in Essex.
But after just 34 seconds, they were behind without having touched the ball.
Wright cut in from the right before releasing Freddie Ladapo with a precise through-ball. The striker made no mistake, side-footing past Martinez with consummate ease.
Arsenal initially responded well, displaying plenty of the neat pass-and-move style that has become the Club’s trademark, with Akpom almost going through after smart build-up play involving Alex Iwobi.
Colchester always looked a threat though and doubled their advantage after 18 minutes when Conor Hubble placed a shot into the far corner after the ball had ricocheted into his path.
Martinez, in trying to keep the shot out, picked up an arm injury and was replaced by Ryan Huddart.
Still, the visitors stuck at it and created a good chance to halve the deficit midway through the first half.
Akpom sent the overlapping Hector Bellerin clear down the right but, after advancing on goal, the full back’s shot was well smothered by home keeper Mark Cousins.
They went close again five minutes before the break when Akpom, Thomas Eisfeld and Kris Olsson all saw close-range efforts somehow blocked away from danger.
Then, with the half-time whistle imminent, the hosts went further in front.
Wright had been the stand-out performer in the first 45 minutes. His pace and movement had caused no shortage of problems for the Arsenal back four and he scored the goal his first-half display deserved when he turned inside Bensebaini and curled an effort into the far corner.
Arsenal were sent out five minutes before the restart and began the second period well, with Akpom almost sending Iwobi through and Eisfeld firing a dipping 30-yard shot over the bar before seeing a penalty appeal turned down.
Play quickly switched to the other end though and, after Tafari Moore’s clearance was charged down, Ladapo found himself with time and space to lash home his second of the evening from 18 yards.
Akpom pulled one back from the penalty spot on the hour, sending Cousins the wrong way after going down under Olufemi’s challenge.
Any hope of a comeback was ended five minutes later when Hayden was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Hubble.
To their credit, Arsenal kept going. Akpom, a constant thorn in the side of the hosts’ central defenders, volleyed over before seeing a powerful shot tipped onto the post.
Arsenal were finishing the stronger but it was Colchester that had the final say when substitute Mason Spence volleyed in the goal of the night from the edge of the area.
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