Coventry City 0-3 Arsenal - Emile Smith-Rowe, Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock shine at the Ricoh in the Checkatrade Trophy
- Credit: Archant
An Arsenal U21 side travelled to Coventry City to take on the League One side in the first-ever match in the Checkatrade Trophy. Read Layth Yousif’s match report from the Ricoh Arena.
Emile Smith-Rowe’s fourth minute goal, substitute Eddie Nketiah’s cool finish on 71 minutes and a late Joe Willock goal sealed a 3-0 victory for Freddie Ljungberg’s Arsenal U21 side against Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena on Wednesday evening.
The young guns held off the challenge of Mark Robins weakened but lively Sky Blues in a doughty performance.
Ljungberg’s young guns started with Tyreece John Jules as a long striker in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation with the full back pairing of Tolaji Bola and James Olayinka acting as auxiliary wing-backs on occasions.
Starlet Emile Smith-Rowe roamed in an attacking trident with the metronomic Charlie Gilmour adding solidity as a defensive shield with Robbie Burton as centre-half.
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Arsenal U23 boss Ljungberg who will also boss the U21 side in this season’s Checkatrade has made a good start to his return to North London having won their previous two Premier League 2 matches against West Ham at the London Stadium and Spurs at the Emirtates.
Scorer of a brace on a wet and windy evening in East London during the hard-fought 3-2 victory, Nketiah, was on the bench for the visitors, along with Gedion Zelalem who made a welcome return after missing last season after injuring his cruciate ligament.
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Robins’ Coventry swapped first choice keeper Lee Burge for Liam O’Brien with the backline seeing Dujon Sterling and Chris Camwell drafted at right and left-back alongside young centre-half Jordon Thompson partnering the more experienced Tom Davies.
Liam Kelly who missed the Sky Blues entire pre-season with a calf problem came in to partner former Arsenal youth Abu Ogogo in the middle – giving their influential 37-year-old captain Michael Doyle a deserved rest.
Reise Allassani, who has shone for the club’s U23s this term made his first start since joining the club this summer while the oldest man on the teamsheet at 30, Tony Andreu starts after being substitute in the 2-1 win over Oxford.
Among the replacement is raw striker Jonny Ngandu who, at 16, could become one of the youngest ever players to make their senior debuts - although he won’t break current record holder Jonson Clarke-Harris’ milestone who made his City bow aged only 16 years and 20 days.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal U21s to take the lead, as Smith-Rowe ran through the backline to show a calm head in coolly slotting past O’Brien on four minutes to put his side 1-0 up.
The home side adopted an aerial approach in a bid to test Arsenal’s raw backline, constantly putting centre-half Zach Medley and keeper Dejan Iliev under pressure.
It may not have been pretty at times but the rearguard held on to repel the visitors at the break, despite a number of threatening moments which came to nothing.
The Sky Blues best chance of the opening 45 minutes came when Jordon Thompson shot powerfully at Illiev who tipped the ball over the ball.
The second half was a largely shapeless affair punctuated by moments of concern in the Arsenal backline as Coventry attempted to find a way through with high balls.
The young visitors again held their line and composure without ever convincing – even if they will have learned so much from this valuable outing, far more than they would have done from a run-of-the-mill U23’s match.
Nketiah replaced Burton with 19 minutes remaining, with the England U20 starlet taking only five minutes to score after the highly-rated starlet capitalised on a wayward backpass from Agogo to calmly slot past O’Brien to double the lead.
Joe Willock calmly finished calmly to make it 3-0 on 90 minutes to underline his potential as the young guns strolled to victory in front of 2.375 fans including 183 hardy Gooners.