By Isaac Moore at Meadow Park
Arsenal Under-21s maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 1-1 draw at home to Derby County on Thursday.
After a goalless and uneventful first half, the game sprung to life after half-time when Ainlsey Maitland-Niles found the bottom corner moments after Derby’s Kwame Thomas had missed an open goal.
Like in their opening-day win at Reading, Arsenal were made to defend in the closing stages and Derby levelled with nine minutes remaining when Alefe Santos converted from the spot.
Arsenal squandered chances late on through Maitland-Niles and Chuba Akpom but a point was probably a fair reflection of the game.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made two changes to the side that beat Reading six days ago. Glen Kamara replaced Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill at full back while Stefan O’Connor came in for Ignasi Miquel at the heart of the Arsenal defence.
The Gunners produced an assured performance in their opener last week and were in confident mood after an unbeaten pre-season.
Derby arrived in Hertfordshire on the back of a victory against Middlesbrough in their first league game with former Arsenal youth player Alban Bunjaku in their ranks.
Derby stifled the Gunners in the opening stages and created the first chance in the 18th minute when Santos’ floated corner dropped for Tom Naylor who blazed wildly over from close range.
Arsenal’s first chance came on 25 minutes after intricate build-up play from Daniel Crowley and Maitland-Niles set up Akpom whose shot flew high and wide.
Chances were few and far between in a tight first period. Kwame Thomas snatched at a half-chance from Farrend Rawson’s flick on and then headed over another Santos cross.
But it was Arsenal who should have gone in at half-time after missing to gilt-edged chances. First Akpom glanced the post with a low effort after more good work from Maitland-Niles.
Then a sweeping Gunners move saw Gedion Zelalem spring down the right and cross for Crowley who lashed his shot over from six yards.
Derby were left to rue a glorious chance in the opening moments of the second period when Thomas closed down Matt Macey’s clearance and somehow nodded wide with the goal gaping.
Ands it took Gatting’s side just a minute to make them pay.
Kris Olsson picked up possession in midfield and guided a perfectly-weighted pass through to Maitland-Niles who took a touch before calmly slotting under Jonathan Mitchell to give Arsenal the lead.
In the 62nd minute, Macey was called into action when he was forced to push away a dipping free-kick from Jamie Hanson.
Semi Ajayi came close to sealing the points for Arsenal when he climbed highest to meet Olsson’s corner but glanced his header marginally wide.
County began to press Arsenal back in the final 15 minutes and their equaliser arrived in the 81st minute. Substitute Alex Iwobi was adjudged to have tripped Kieron Freeman just inside the box and Santos sent Macey the wrong way from the resulting spot kick. Arsenal were left to rue some lacklustre finishing in the final five minutes. First Akpom slipped in Maitland-Niles whose side-foot effort was kicked away by Mitchell. In the 89th minute, Akpom was put through on goal but his chipped effort sailed wide after a heavy first touch allowed Mitchell to close the angle.
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