By Isaac Moore at Meadow Park
Arsenal Under-21s have suffered their first defeat of the season, losing 5-1 at home to Sunderland.
The Black Cats, who began the game third in the league, proved to be too strong for a slightly under-strength Gunners side.
Two goals in the first half from Duncan Watmore and Mikael Mandron gave Sunderland a deserved lead at the break before Mandron netted his second five minutes after half-time.
Jon Toral pulled one back for the Gunners but Craig Lynch restored Sunderland’s three-goal lead with 15 minutes before Mandron completed his hat-trick in the 90th minute.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made three changes from the cup win over Norwich City almost a fortnight ago. Emiliano Viviano made his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt, replacing Matt Macey in goal. Elsewhere Daniel Boateng filled in for Stefan O’Connor at centre back and Kris Olsson was restored in central midfield in place of Emmanuel Frimpong.
Despite making a strong start to the league season themselves, Sunderland came into this game without a win since September. A win for Arsenal would take them above the Black Cats.
Both sides struggled to create any early openings. Viviano would have been pleased with his first contribution when he smothered bravely at the feet of Mandron in the eighth minute.
Two minutes later, Lynch found Mandron in space but the forward opted to shoot when he could have taken the ball further on - his low effort trickled wide.
As the half wore on, Arsenal started to relax and exert more pressure with Olsson and Isaac Hayden displaying some neat touches in the middle of midfield.
But in the 34th minute the visitors took the lead. After a lengthy spell of possession on the edge of the Arsenal box, George Honeymoon found Watmore with no-one around him inside the box and the midfielder had time to steady himself before firing a low shot past Viviano and into the bottom corner.
Viviano made another excellent stop with nine minutes of the half remaining, denying Adam Mitchell with his legs.
The Gunners almost had an immediate response. Thomas Eisfeld was put through on goal and he rounded Joel Dixon but his shot hit the outside of the post and went out for a goal-kick.
Sunderland got their second in the 44th minute but Viviano could count himself extremely unfortunate to concede. The Italian made two superb reflex saves to deny Watmore and then Lynch but Mandarin was on hand to nod home a second rebound.
The home side played with increased urgency after half-time and Mandron put the game beyond Arsenal’s reach on 51 minutes. Liam Agnew played an early pass into Watmore who was tackled by Semi Ajayi, but the loose ball fell kindly to Mandron and he slotted under the advancing Viviano.
Arsenal continued to probe in search of a goal and they found one in the 64th minute. Toral latched onto a loose ball inside the Sunderland box and fired a low shot into the far corner to give the Gunners a glimmer of hope.
Chuba Akpom should have halved the deficit two minutes later but he miscued his effort after a strong run from Tafari Moore on the right-hand side.
But as the Gunners threw more men forward, gaps started to appear for the Black Cats to exploit. The impressive Watmore tried to chip Viviano when he was put clean through on goal but the Italian stood up well to make an easy save.
Sunderland got their fourth on 75 minutes with the pick of the goals. Arsenal again failed to clear their lines and the ball fell to Lynch who steered a well-directed effort into the bottom corner.
Toral forced a good save from Dixon on 87 minutes when he was released down the left by Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill.
But Mandron completed his treble on 90 minutes when he turned home Watmore’s cross from close range.
Arsenal can take credit for spirited response in the second half but they were well beaten on the night.
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