By Max Jones at Emirates Stadium
Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry continued to build up their fitness as Arsenal Under-21s lost 1-0 against Reading at Emirates Stadium.
Diaby was withdrawn after an hour while Wilshere put in a typically energetic 88 minutes and Gnabry completed a full game for the young Gunners.
Niall Keown gave Reading the lead, climbing high to glance Liam Kelly’s delivery into the far corner as Arsenal struggled to make their chances count in the first half.
The Gunners kept pressing after the break and went close through Wilshere and substitute Stephy Mavididi, but were thwarted by Royals goalkeeper Daniel Lincoln and his well-drilled back four.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made two changes to the side that beat Stoke City 4-1 at the Emirates last Tuesday as Wilshere, Diaby and Gnabry looked to secure more valuable minutes for the under-21s.
Matt Macey came in for Deyan Iliev in goal while Julio Pleguezuelo’s first start of the season saw makeshift right back Ainsley Maitland-Niles return to a familiar midfield role in place of Mikel Arteta.
Elsewhere Alex Iwobi continued his run up front in place of Chuba Akpom - who scored the only goal in the reverse fixture - and was looking to build on an impressive tally of five goals in his previous two games.
It was fourth against third in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League and a chance for both sides to stake a claim for promotion at the tail end of the season.
The top-of-the-table clash was intended to showcase Arsenal’s future stars but it was a name from their past who took centre stage in front of 2,217 fans.
Keown - son of Highbury legend Martin - echoed his dad’s aerial dominance by towering over his marker to power Kelly’s corner past Macey.
Reading could have doubled their advantage less than two minutes later when the lively Tariqe Fosu sidestepped Pleguezuelo and burst into the box before curling inches wide of the far post.
Arsenal did have chances to equalise. First Gnabry sliced a shot off target from 10 yards before the Germany Under-21 forward and Wilshere forced Lincoln into fine reaction saves on the stroke of half-time.
Wilshere and Daniel Crowley grew in influence after the break. First the England midfielder broke from the halfway line to find Iwobi, whose shot was saved, before finding Crowley who was halted by Pierce Sweeney’s last-ditch tackle.
Crowley then curled in a dangerous free-kick towards Mavididi but the striker could not keep his header under the crossbar from six yards, and dragged his following attempt wide.
Iwobi was next to break towards the box, finding Crowley who squared to the onrushing Wilshere, but the 22-year-old’s low strike was well saved by Lincoln.
Wilshere then lashed a half-volley over from 18 yards before Fosu created space inside the box, but Macey stood tall to beat the forward’s shot clear.
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