West Ham United U23s were edged out by Arsenal U23s in the Premier League 2 Division 1 at a rainy London Stadium yesterday evening, as Freddie Ljungberg’s men came away with the three points after an entertaining battle.
Liam Manning and Steve Potts’ hosts put up a good fight against the reigning champions early doors, having chances to go ahead themselves, before star Gunners striker Eddie Nketiah and captain Julio Pleguezuelo struck before half-time.
West Ham responded well and came flying out of the blocks after the break, Xande Silva pulling one back, but Nketiah replied on 52 minutes to make it 1-3, home skipper Reece Oxford later headed home to set up an interesting finish, with the visitors just holding on.
A first victory of the season for the North London club saw them move up an impressive four places in the PL2 Division 1 standings, while the Hammers also moved from falling from fourth to eighth after conceding a second consecutive defeat.
West Ham United U23s starting Xl: Nathan Trott (GK), Ben Johnson, Reece Oxford (C), Josh Pask, Joe Powell, Josh Cullen, Conor Coventry, Grady Diangana, Alfie Lewis, Nathan Holland, Xande Silva.
Substitutes: Joseph Anang, Ajibola Alese, Mason Barrett, Jahmal Hector-Ingram, Oladapo Afolayan.
Arsenal U23s starting Xl: Deyan Iliev, Joseph Olowu, Tolaji Bola, Charlie Gilmour, Danny Ballard, Julio Pleguezuelo, Xavier Amaechi, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson.
Substitutes: Zech Medley, Karl Hein, James Olayinka, Bukayo Saka, Tyreece John-Jules.
On what was a chilly August evening at London Stadium, the host of three PL2 matches per season like each other first-team ground of each club in the division, the encounter produced an even and competitive start.
After both teams squandered early chances to break the deadlock, the away side, who won in Stratford to secure a maiden PL2 title victory on the final day of last term, began to look the more likely.
Nketiah, scorer of a brace the last time these two met had looked dangerous from the off, meaning it was no surprise when he latched onto a long free-kick and bared down on goal.
The England youth International got ahead of his defender, before slotting calmly past Trott in the Hammers net on the 26-minute mark, laying the foundations of victory.
Just eight minutes later, that advantage was doubled from a well-worked set-piece from the Gunners, who are now managed by club legend Ljungberg, also a player of West Ham, once upon a time.
Spanish skipper Pleguezuelo got his head to a corner, getting enough height on the ball to fool Trott and his defenders, the ball looping into the far top corner, too ensure the teams went in at the break separated by two goals.
Whatever Manning and ex-Hammer Potts said to their players at the break, it worked, as they were back in the game within a mere three minutes of the restart.
Portuguese star Silva was the man with the goal, a cushioned header into the corner after Powell’s smart cross from the left, the man signed in the summer netting his fifth strike in three league games.
However, they weren’t just one behind for long, seven minutes, to be exact, the ever-present Nketiah getting himself on the scoresheet once more, beating Trott from close-range after the Hammers failed to deal with a corner properly.
There was still time for yet another set-piece goal and it came at the other end, home captain Oxford rising tallest from a corner to make it 2-3 and set up a grandstand finish that never really came.
The hosts tried with all their mite to score a late equaliser, but the Gunners stood resolute in defence and did most of the late pressing themselves, had it not been for countless Trott saves, the victory could have been a lot more convincing for Arsenal, 2-3 it finished.
After the full-time whistle, West Ham co-manager Manning spoke to the club’s official website WHUFC.com, here is a full transcription of what the young coach had to say:
“I think the mentality of our team; we need to work on it. We keep coming in at half-time and then sorting it out; managers won’t pick you if you have to do that, and we have to address that this week.
“We need to load up that in their heads; when they start a game, it’s a career they’re playing for, not just a game in the Premier League. They have to get their heads around that.
“We stepped it up in the second half, especially early on, and we were a lot better going forward and created a lot of chances and hit the bar.
“Again, it comes back to finishing teams off when the chances come like that. They looked a threat and we looked too open at times.
“The frustrating thing at the minute is the manner in which we’re conceding goals, we spoke to the boys after; it’s a steep learning curve and the level they’re at now, they need to learn really quickly what the game’s about and they have to deliver, so it’s a frustrating one.
“It’s obviously something we have to work on in training, working on the defence. You have to be able to defend one-v-one and we will have to address it, because it can’t keep happening.
“A positive we can take was Nathan Holland; I think he was the pick of the players on the pitch, and ultimately that’s what it’s about. Of course, we want to win games and do well as a team, but we can’t lose sight that it’s about developing players and I think Nathan was great tonight and showed his qualities going forward.”
As the dust settles in the wake of a disappointing second home defeat on the spin, the Hammers will have just over a week before their next PL2 matchup, away at Liverpool next Sunday, whilst Arsenal are next in action on Friday, welcoming bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur to the Emirates Stadium.