We kicked off our preparations for the 2023/24 season with a 1-1 draw with training ground neighbours Watford at London Colney on Saturday, thanks to a second-half equaliser from Marquinhos.
Mikel Arteta named a strong starting XI, consisting of the players who returned to training at the start of the week, before turning to his youth players in the second-half.
We had an early chance to take the lead in the behind-closed-doors friendly, but a dangerous cross into the box from Reiss Nelson ended up in the hands of Watford keeper Daniel Bachmann.
The visitors responded, pressing high up the pitch, but 17-year-old midfielder Myles Lewis-Skelly was positioned well to halt Ken Sema’s burst into the box.
Late in the half we had a couple of chances to take the lead. First Eddie Nketiah found himself through on goal, but the striker was denied by a last-gasp challenge from the covering Watford defender.
Not long after, a low driven pass from Gabriel through the middle, fell to the feet of Nketiah but his shot was blocked. From the resulting corner, Leandro Trossard’s delivery into the box caused confusion, before it was eventually cleared for a throw in.
We were made to pay when Watford broke the deadlock just before the whistle - Ismael Kone on the scoresheet.
With building up fitness naturally a key priority, the manager made wholesale changes at the break, with nine players replaced.
A much younger side opened the second half with an early opportunity to equalise through Mika Biereth, but the 20-year-old striker’s shot on goal was comfortably dealt with.
However we drew level 10 minutes after the restart. Rob Holding started the move, finding Biereth, whose pass freed Amario Cozier-Duberry. The winger’s shot was saved but only pushed into the path of Brazilian forward Marquinhos, who coolly slotted home the rebound.
Both teams contested fiercely for the winner, but the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Starting XI: Arthur Okonkwo, Ben White, Gabriel, Rob Holding, Cedric, Myles Lewis-Skelly, Leandro Trossard, Reiss Nelson, Mauro Bandeira, Gabriel Jesus, Eddie Nketiah.
Subs: James Hillson, Marquinhos, Mika Biereth, Amario Cozier-Duberry, Jimi Gower, Jack Henry-Francis, Alex Kirk, Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Ethan Nwaneri, Ismail Ouland-M’hand, Charles Sagoe Jr, Lino Sousa, Reuell Walters.
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