By Nik Brumsack at Matchroom Stadium
An Arsenal XI twice battled back from two goals down to draw 4-4 against Leyton Orient in a thoroughly entertaining pre-season clash at Matchroom Stadium on Tuesday night.
Matched against strong League One opponents who fielded the majority of their first-team squad, Steve Gatting’s side were 2-0 behind after just five minutes before a Wellington Silva brace drew them level.
Goals either side of the break gave the hosts a 4-2 advantage but Chuba Akpom's strike and Danny Boateng’s last-gasp equaliser ensured a deserved share of the spoils.
The nature of Arsenal’s performance, plus their never-say-die attitude, will have delighted Gatting on an evening where his young side did themselves proud.
With the first team back from their tour of Asia, Gatting took the opportunity to field a host of players that had travelled to the Far East, including midfield trio Kris Olsson Chuks Aneke and Thomas Eisfeld.
Akpom, whose fruitful pre-season form had seen him score four times on tour, was named in attack, where he received support from Eisfeld and Silva.
Gatting named an attacking line-up but when the hosts forced an early corner, Arsenal’s immediate job was to defend.
It was a task they failed twice in quick succession.
First, Scott Cuthbert rose unchallenged to head in Lloyd James’ set-piece, before just 60 seconds later, Kevin Lisbie nodded in a carbon-copy second.
Still, Arsenal rallied and quickly pulled a goal back.
Eisfeld and Nico Yennaris combined to find a pocket of space for Silva, who opened his body up and stroked a low shot into the bottom corner.
The opening to proceedings had been engaging. Both sides pushed forward at will, with Arsenal’s youngsters often combining well in the middle before failing to find the killer pass.
They were indebted to Iliev too who made three fine saves to prevent Lisbie from adding to his tally.
The chances kept coming and the visitors were almost level after 34 minutes when Eisfeld dragged a shot just off target after Aneke’s ingenious reverse pass had put him clean through.
On the other flank, Silva had at times excelled, with a combination of stepovers and dragbacks keeping the 3,413-strong crowd entertained.
He got his second goal just before the break, nipping in to slot home from close range after Akpom had intercepted a stray backpass in the Orient area.
But with a compelling first half drawing to a close, David Mooney ensured parity would not last long, rifling a shot beyond Iliev from the edge of the area.
In keeping with the entertaining tone of the opening 45 minutes, both sides began the second period eager to attack.
"The nature of Arsenal’s performance, plus their never-say-die attitude, will have delighted Gatting on an evening where his young side did themselves proud"
Trialist Johnny Gorman gave Orient breathing space in the 50th minute when a shot deflected fortuitously into his path inside the area.
Two minutes later, Akpom brought Arsenal back into the game, sliding a shot through the legs of Jamie Jones after another intelligent Aneke pass had created the opportunity.
The hosts had made 10 changes at the break but despite their seemingly fresher legs, it was Arsenal that had wrestled control of proceedings.
Aneke twice went close before Eisfeld’s free-kick from a narrow angle clipped the post on its way wide.
At the other end, only Hayden’s last-ditch tackle prevented Bowerman from going through on goal.
Roared on by the 860 vociferous visiting supporters, Arsenal continued to search for an equaliser.
And they found it with the last kick of the game.
After Aneke and Yennaris had been denied, Boateng capitalised on a defensive error to tap into an empty net.
Gatting will have numerous positives to take from an evening where his young side delivered their strongest performance of pre-season yet - and he will be hoping for similar when the young XI conclude their pre-season against Luton Town on Saturday.
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