Despite a spirited effort across this year’s competition, Arsenal’s u19 side have crashed out of the UEFA Youth League at the group stage phase after a 1-1 away draw against Basel.
Given their situation in Group A, they needed a victory with more than a one-goal cushion away from home in Switzerland because of their negative head-to-head record against Tuesday’s hosts.
From the offset, you could be excused for thinking that roles had been reversed and it was Basel that were in search of an early goal. Their players combined well with slick passing moves, testing Arsenal’s backline on a handful of occasions until Andries Jonker’s youngsters responded with promising attacks of their own.
Krystian Bielik’s aerial prowess was evident from the very first corner-kick, and the Polish centre-back nodded the ball down into the path of his defensive counterpart Kris da Graca: only to watch on in frustration as his effort was cleared off the line.
Edward Nketiah came close with a powerful strike of his own, but goalkeeper Dario Thürkauf was equal to the shot. Atdhe Rashiti proved threatening at the other end with two close efforts in quick succession, the 17-year-old Frenchman was ultimately unlucky not to add to his goal-scoring tally of three in the group stages.
Tolaji Bola was unfortunately stretchered off after 30 minutes, and Josh daSilva had to consequently fill in at left-back with creative midfielder Vlad Dragomir coming on to replace the 18-year-old.
The scores remained goalless at the interval, but we could’ve easily been two goals behind early after the restart. Luca Tausch’s deflected strike swerved narrowly wide, before Yves Kaiser headed inches past the post from the resulting set-piece.
Donyell Malen, fresh off the substitutes’ bench, delivered a corner towards the path of Nketiah and the prolific striker was quick to pounce on the Dutchman’s intended pass before slotting home from close-range for his third Youth League goal this term with ten minutes still to play.
Both sides went in search of an all-important goal, and it was Basel who snatched a late equaliser in stoppage time through Martin Liechti to ensure Arsenal’s UEFA Youth League hopes were dashed in dramatic fashion.
Questions will ultimately be raised in regards to team selection. The likes of Chris Willock, Kaylen Hinds and Ainsley Maitland-Niles all did not feature and experienced heads in this competition can prove vital during moments like these.
Edward Nketiah and Reiss Nelson, as well as fullback Chiori Johnson and goalkeeper Hugo Keto represent a few players that can hold their heads up high despite defeat – all have been reliable and consistent performers throughout the group stages when called upon.
It’s back to square one for Arsenal’s youngsters in Europe because despite flashes of dazzling potential, they’re unable, collectively, to turn dominance into goals and convincing scorelines on a regular basis.