Playing in the Premier League International Cup, the Arsenal u21s took on AS Monaco on Monday.
Arsenal had drawn with Jong Feyenoord in their opening group game, so with only four fixtures in total, they needed to start putting some wins together.
The Gunners only made a couple of changes from their last game against Everton, with Charles Sagoe Jr and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji coming into the team for Marquinhos and Khayon Edwards.
It was Butler-Oyedeji who was involved in the game’s first major incident, a game-changing moment.
Pouncing on a goalkeeping error, Butler-Oyedeji took the ball past the Monaco shot-stopper and had an open goal to tap the ball into. However, the goalkeeper pulled his arm back and floored the Arsenal forward.
From the stands, it looked to be a clear penalty and a red card. But only a minute into the game, the referee shied away from the call and waved the appeal away. He didn’t book Butler-Oyedeji for diving.
Arsenal had started brightly, and Catalin Cirjan had a close-range header saved. But Monaco were evidently looking to disrupt their opposition, and they picked up three yellow cards in the first quarter of the match.
Fortunately, on the half-hour mark, Cirjan took advantage of Arsenal’s dominance to cut in and score for 1-0, set up by Matt Smith.
It was a comfortable finish from a midfielder who always looks bright when he’s involved, his second goal in two games following his recent first-team squad call-ups.
Butler-Oyedeji then had a shot deflected just wide, and Zach Awe saw his deflected header from a corner looping onto the bar. Mauro Bandeira also had a great chance to double Arsenal’s lead from a Butler-Oyedeji pass, but he put it just wide.
Arsenal continued to dominate the chances after the break, with Cirjan only just failing to reach a rebound after Bandeira’s shot had tested the opposition keeper.
Cirjan then fired over with a decent opportunity after he was expertly found by Amario Cozier-Duberry.
Arsenal then brought on Myles Lewis-Skelly and Jack Henry-Francis for Cirjan and Bandeira, and the duo quickly had an impact.
Lewis-Skelly won a couple of free-kicks with his first two possessions, drawing yet another yellow card for a Monaco man, before Arsenal finally doubled their advantage.
Butler-Oyedeji found Henry-Francis in the area, and the midfielder showed excellent composure to fake a shot with his right foot before passing into the net with his left for 2-0.
Lewis-Skelly should then have made it 3-0 with a fantastic volley, but the goalkeeper made the save of the game to keep it out. Frustratingly, the save just served as another reminder that he shouldn’t have been on the pitch.
Arsenal made a couple more changes, with Ethan Nwaneri and Joel Ideho coming on for Cozier-Duberry and Sagoe Jr, but Monaco finally made things interesting with a goal of their own.
The away side played the ball into the box and Hubert Graczyk should have come out to claim, but he hesitated for far too long and allowed Mamadou Coulibaly to run onto it and score.
Graczyk had generally had a good game, particularly in clearing up chances as a sweeper, so it was a disappointing moment that didn’t necessarily reflect his overall performance.
Edwards came on for Butler-Oyedeji in the final minutes, and Monaco attempted one last push to secure an equaliser, but they were ultimately unsuccessful as it ended 2-1.
The win leaves Arsenal top of the group on goals scored, but Jong PSV and the Brighton u21s have a game in hand against each other, and both sit just one point behind the Gunners with a superior goal difference.
Still, Arsenal are in a strong position to reach the knockout stages after their first two games, knowing that wins in the last two would guarantee their progression. Their next group match against Sparta Prague is on November 30th.
To briefly explain the format, there are eight teams in Arsenal’s group, four English and four foreign.
Each of the English teams plays four matches against the four foreign teams, and all eight teams are then ranked against each other based on their results. The top two teams and the two best third-place finishers across the three groups make the knockouts.
The idea is to get Premier League academy teams experience against European opposition, which is why there are no domestic fixtures in the group stage.
Arsenal u21 lineup vs Monaco
Graczyk, Walters, Foran, Awe, Sousa, M. Smith, Cirjan, Bandeira, Sagoe Jr, Cozier-Duberry, Butler-Oyedeji
Lewis-Skelly (for Cirjan, 60), Henry-Francis (for Bandeira, 60), Nwaneri (for Cozier-Duberry, 74), Ideho (for Sagoe Jr, 74), Edwards (for Butler-Oyedeji, 81), Hillson, Quesada-Thorn
Before the Premier League International Cup returns for Arsenal on November 30th, the Gunners have a few games in the other cup competitions.
First things first, Mehmet Ali’s side will take on Stoke City u21s on Saturday in the Premier League Cup at 13:00. The Gunners currently lead that group with two wins in two games, and Stoke are the final side they haven’t yet faced.