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Aston Villa U21 0-2 Arsenal U21: Match Report

An Akpom brace keeps Arsenal U21s at the top of the table.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

0-1 Akpom 28'
0-2 Akpom 85'

Arsenal's U21 side impressed in their first televised match of the season with a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Aston Villa U21s at Villa Park.

Steve Gatting had a strong side at his disposal with Abou Diaby, Francis Coquelin, Gedion Zelalem and Emiliano Martinez all stepping down from the first-team for today's action. Joining them were first-team team picture takers Hector Bellerin, Isaac Hayden, and Chuba Akpom. The Gunners were set up in a 4-2-3-1 with DIaby and Coquelin in the midfield and Zelalem at No. 10.

Arsenal started brightly with Ainsley Maitland-Niles threatening on multiple occasions. In the fifth minute, Akpom broke quickly off a Villa corner, and Maitland-Niles' curling effort from 25 yards out bounced off the crossbar. In the sixteenth minute, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill cut the ball back to Maitland-Niles, after being played through into the box by Crowley, but the winger's shot was blocked.

Villa had a dangerous chance in the twentieth minute as their left winger beat Ormande-Ottewill and drove a low shot which Martinez was able to save. The Villa striker had strayed into an offside position right in front of Martinez, making the save even more impressive.

Akpom had a golden chance after a defensive miscue in the twenty-fourth minute by Villa allowed him to round the keeper, but their defense was able to recover in time to clear his attempt away.

Arsenal finally broke through in the twenty-eighth minute as Akpom nicked the ball off of a Villa defender, cut inside, and hammered a shot into the corner of the net. In the thirty-eighth minute, Akpom should have doubled his tally as a probing Diaby through ball put him one-on-one with the keeper, but Akpom was unable to round the onrushing keeper and was dispossessed.

Villa had a great chance go begging in the seventy-third minute as they were afforded a free header on goal from about eight yards out after Maitland-Niles had given up on the play, thinking the ball had gone out. Villa had a couple of good chances on breaks, thanks to Arsenal defensive errors, but Arsenal largely dominated proceedings and would put the nail in the coffin in the eighty-fifth minute. Zelalem played a brilliant through ball in to Akpom who was able to poke it home past the on-rushing keeper.

Arsenal remain top of the U21 Division 2 table with 10 points after 4 matches.

Random Thoughts:

-Diaby played the full 90. He held onto the ball too much early on, but got more comfortable as things proceeded. Had a few of his trademark mazy dribbles into the opposition's half which was nice to see. Also played a couple of class through balls which led to Arsenal half chances. All in all, a very good match for Diaby as he attempts to regain some level of fitness.

-Bellerin was very good. Defended well and attacked well. He deserves a first-team promotion.

-Akpom isn't good enough for our first team, but he certainly is too good to keep playing in U21 action. He needs a loan to challenge himself. He oozes self-confidence in these matches. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but he plays like an NBA player at a pickup game. He just messes around and tries things that would never come off in a top-flight match because he's clearly better than his competition. Don't think it does much for his development to keep him playing at this level.

-Zelalem was just fine today for the first 85 minutes. I can't remember him playing a bad pass or being dispossessed, but he wasn't really trying anything. Then, he exploded at the end with a wonderful assist and an attempted Cruyff turn in the middle of midfield, which nearly came off but for a slightly off final touch. I was ready to write in these notes that maybe he should become a deep playmaking midfielder for us because of his amazing short passing and ability to recycle play, then he shows his promise as a no. 10 with preternatural vision. I honestly don't know what position is the best for him, but I hope he continues to improve.

-Hayden played at centerback today and looked pretty good. Was solid throughout and only really had one dumb foul. He mainly played as the left-sided CB, but on multiple occasions it looked like he and O'Connor switched sides, which I had never seen before.

-Arsenal wore its home shirt with its away shorts and away socks. It was as disgusting as you are picturing.