By Max Jones at London Colney
Arsenal Under-21s slipped to a 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa on Friday afternoon at London Colney.
The Gunners fought well to get back into the game but conceded a late goal as they chased an equaliser.
Jerrell Sellars put the visitors ahead, cleverly turning inside the box to bury a shot into the far corner, and he set up Tom Leggett to double his side’s first-half advantage.
Arsenal pulled one back after the break when Kevin Toner headed Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill’s cross into his own net, but the Gunners were made to pay for poor defending when substitute Khalid Abdo struck late on to secure three points for Villa.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made one change to the side that lost 3-2 at Middlesbrough on Monday.
Julio Pleguezuelo made just his second start of the season to replace Renny Smith at right back, behind in-form forward Alex Iwobi, who captained the young Gunners.
Deyan Iliev continued in goal while the behind-closed-doors clash gave Daniel Crowley another another chance to impress against his former side.
The reverse fixture saw Arsenal run out 2-0 winners, thanks to a brace from Chuba Akpom, but Gatting’s side would face a more difficult task without the striker and against a Villa defence boasting recent first-team squad member Riccardo Calder.
Arsenal started the brighter side, with Crowley stinging Bradley Watkins’ palms from a dipping free-kick, but Villa soon took the lead. The Gunners failed to clear a quick counter-attack and Sellars buried a loose ball into the far corner.
The early goal unsettled Gatting’s side and the visitors scored a second less than five minutes later. Sellars was involved again, this time beating his man on the edge of the box to cross for Leggett, who headed past Iliev.
Arsenal soon found a foothold in the game and were unlucky not to pull one back when Iwobi’s shot was cleared off the line, before Crowley volleyed inches wide of the bottom corner.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles then sprung into action. The midfielder forced Watkins into a fine diving save before the goalkeeper denied Stephy Mavididi from close range after Maitland-Niles’ 18-yard strike had rattled the crossbar.
Arsenal began the second half as they had ended the first and were rewarded for their dominance shortly after the restart. Iwobi powered forward to find Ormonde-Ottewill, and his cross was headed in at the near post by Villa captain Toner.
The Gunners had visibly grown in confidence and carried a threat with every attack. First Crowley fed Gedion Zelalem and then he found Maitland-Niles, but the midfielder smashed well off target.
Villa’s pacy attack still caused the hosts problems, though, and Arsenal were indebted to George Dobson after the defender prevented a certain goal by throwing himself in front of Sellars’ shot.
The Gunners pressed desperately for an equaliser but the visitors put the game beyond doubt with three minutes to go. Abdo collected on the edge of the box and his low strike found the corner beyond the reach of Iliev.
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