Arsenal U19s fell today in UEFA Youth League play against Dinamo Zagreb, losing 2-1. It was the first loss for the young Gunners in European competition this season.
Arsenal began the match with a very attacking lineup. Alex Iwobi, normally a winger or striker, was fielded as a central midfielder to accommodate an attacking quartet of Kaylen Hinds, Reiss Nelson, Chris Willock, and Donyell Malen. Another winger, Aaron Eyoma, filled in at right back due to injury. Surprisingly, Krystian Bielik started on the bench with Marcus Agyei-Tabi getting the nod at defensive midfielder and Stefan O'Connor partnering with Julio Pleguezuelo in central defense.
The theme of the first half was pretty standard for an Arsenal side. A lot more dangerous moments with no breakthrough and a handful of incisive counters by the opposition to keep us worried. Hinds had to come off in the 19th minute after injuring himself on a 50-50 sliding challenge. He was replaced by speedy winger Tyrell Robinson who only added to Arsenal's potency on the counter.
Arsenal found much of their joy on the left side through Willock and Nelson, the latter using his free role to great effect causing the Croatian side all sorts of problems. Iwobi surprisingly impressed from his central midfield position, using his speed and trickery to propel defense to attack. His passing was also excellent and he served as the catalyst for many of Arsenal's best counters. Zagreb was dangerous on the counter but did not have any great chances.
Unfortunately, Arsenal was unable to capitalize on their attacking play and went into the half 0-0.
Arsenal struggled to get going in the second half and were punished for it. Josip Brekalo picked up the ball near midfield and absolutely skinned Eyoma and easily beat O'Connor to cut inside and fire past Hugo Keto in the 54th minute.
Arsenal immediately brightened up and went for it, bringing on Ismael Bennacer for Agyei-Tabi in the 66th minute.
Unfortunately, the young Gunners were immediately undone by more absent defending on the right hand side. A cross was not cleared and Amer Gojak fired home a not-so-nice goal in the 69th minute with Keto out of position anticipating a near-post threat that never materialized.
Arsenal continued to press for a goal with Stephy Mavididi coming on for Reiss Nelson. Ultimately, that substitution gave the Gunners hope as he was able to bundle home a Willock cross in the 78th minute. However, Arsenal were unable to press on and get an equalizer.
The loss means Arsenal and Zagreb are tied at the top of the table with 10 points each. The two squads split their head to heads match-ups and Arsenal has the better head to head and overall goal difference. You would think Arsenal still control their own destiny here, but forgive my ignorance of UEFA Youth League tiebreakers.