By Ben Hooke at Meadow Park
Arsenal Under-23s were in fine form at Meadow Park as they cruised to a resounding 4-0 victory over Sunderland.
Stephy Mavididi provided the opener from the penalty spot in the first half, before second half strikes from Kaylen Hinds, Reiss Nelson and Chris Willock sealed a comprehensive win for the Gunners.
Arsenal dominated the game and played some fantastically-intricate football, as well as energetically pressing the visitors, who struggled to cope with the high tempo.
In truth, it could have been more than four for Steve Gatting’s side, who tested Maksymillian Stryjek in the Sunderland goal throughout the 90 minutes.
SETTING THE SCENE
The Gunners came into this game looking to bounce back from their 1-0 loss against Manchester United on Monday night.
Gatting made nine changes to his starting line-up, welcoming back six players involved in the first-team’s 2-0 win against Reading in the EFL Cup.
Gedion Zelalem and Willock were among those who returned to the starting line up after featuring for Arsene Wenger's side at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
Matt Macey started in goal, while Krystian Bielik - captaining the Gunners - partnered Ben Sheaf in central defence. Marc Bola started at left back on his return to the side.
On a chilly night at Meadow Park it was the Gunners who started the brighter of the two sides, spreading the ball nicely - and they didn’t have to wait long to open up the Sunderland back four.
Zelalem sent a raking pass out from midfield to Kaylen Hinds, who brought the ball down well, but his effort was saved at the near post by Stryjek in the Black Cats’ goal.
Arsenal were certainly edging the opening stages, but Sunderland weren’t without threat. Joel Asoro and George Honeyman kept Ben Sheaf and Krystian Bielik on their toes as the away side looked to counter at every opportunity.
On the half-hour mark Arsenal got a deserved goal and broke the deadlock. Willock played a clever one-two with Nelson on the edge of the box and, as the former rushed into the penalty area, he was brought down by Joshua Robson.
Mavididi stepped up to take the penalty and calmly placed the ball low to the goalkeeper’s right.
Matt Macey had little to do in the home goal until late in the half. Two almost identical free-kicks were floated in from the left by Rees Greenwood. On both occasions, George Brady and Asoro both saw their respective efforts saved by Macey.
Gatting’s side were quick out of the blocks – with Ismael Bennacer, tenacious in midfield, picking up the ball on the right and looping a volley just wide of goal.
As Arsenal upped the tempo, the visitors struggled to cope. Willock skipped past Robson and his cross-cum-shot bounced across goal, enabling Reiss Nelson to slide the ball home from a yard out to double the Gunners' lead.
Two minutes later it was three for the home side. Intricate football from defence through to attack resulted in Zelalem turning on a sixpence and finding Hinds. His first effort was saved, but he was quick to react to the loose ball to extend the lead.
That goal opened up the game as Sunderland went in search for a route back into the match. The visitors had the ball in the net just before the hour mark, but Asaro’s chip was ruled out by the linesman’s flag.
To add insult to injury, the rampant Arsenal frontline went straight up the other end and tucked away a fourth goal.
Willock benefitted from Bennacer’s pressing high up the pitch, finding himself one-on-one. The forward then cracked his shot past the helpless Stryjek into the top corner to put a stunning gloss on a comprehensive win.
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