Arsenal U21 0-1 Reading U21sNiall Keown’s decisive, early header earned Reading’s U21s all three points against a star-filled Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Monday evening.
The defender powered home Liam Kelly’s corner before following it up with a magnificent defensive display, alongside Pierce Sweeney at the heart of defence, as the Royals downed a Gunners side containing Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry.
Though the hosts enjoyed a number of spells of possession, they were unable to break through the Reading rearguard, as Martin Kuhl’s men made it four successive victories.
The home side had the game’s first opening when Daniel Crowley, who netted for Arsenal’s U18s in the FA Cup Youth against Reading in January, volleyed over from 18 yards on six minutes.
The Royals, though, edged ahead almost immediately. After good pressing from Conor Shaughnessy won a corner, Keown rose highest to power a header into the far corner of the net.
Tariqe Fosu jinked himself into a dangerous position after 12 minutes and only a vital block from Stefan O’Connor denied the winger what would almost certainly have been a second Reading goal.
The Royals were causing the Gunners problems down their left flank and Shane Griffin may have won his side a penalty when he tumbled under the challenge of O’Connor. Referee Steve Plane did not see the challenge as a foul, though.
Arsenal began to enjoy some decent spells of possession as the first half progressed, with one concluding with Ainsley Maitland-Niles fizzing a low ball across the six-yard box.
Keown did likewise for the Royals six minutes before the break but no-one was able to connect with his inviting, downwards header.
But on the stroke of half-time Reading were indebted to goalkeeper Dan Lincoln. First, he made a routine save from a low Gnabry shot, and seconds before the whistle he threw up an instinctive right arm to push
England international Jack Wilshere’s rising shot over the bar.
Two minutes after the restart, goalscorer Keown got in a telling block on Gnabry’s powerful strike and four minutes later Lincoln dived to his left to palm an Alex Iwobi shot away from danger.
Nana Owusu nodded a deep Fosu cross over the crossbar for the Royals and Aaron Kuhl then let fly from 25 yards on the hour mark, with his shot skidding wide of the target.
A stereotypically, slick Arsenal move after 65 minutes saw possession find the feet of Wilshere inside the penalty area, but an instrumental toe poke from Pierce Sweeney was on hand to quell the threat.
England man Wilshere tested the Lincoln’s palms with a powerful shot 20 minutes from time before Reading countered and may have won another penalty when substitute Andrija Novakovich went down inside the box.
Again the decision was not given and, at the other end, Wilshere blazed over when well placed inside the penalty area in what proved to be his last meaningful involvement.
As the fourth official’s lifted up his board to indicate three minutes of stoppage time, Reading and Fosu embarked on a counter attack. He twisted his way beyond O’Connor and sent a powerful drive at goal, which home stopper Matt Macey kept out.
The loose ball fell for Novakovich, who made himself a decent angle before shooting over the crossbar. It proved to be the game’s final attempt on goal, though, as Martin Kuhl’s men held on to make it 1-0 to Reading in the two clubs’ three-game series this week.
The next, of course, sees the two first teams meet at Wembley Stadium for a place in the FA Cup Final on Saturday evening…
Arsenal: Macey, Pleguezuelo, Ormonde-Ottewill, Bielik, O’Connor, Wilshere, Maitland-Niles, Diaby Gnabry, Crowley, Iwobi.
Subs: Iliev, Dobson, Kamara, Mavididi, Zelalem.
Reading: Lincoln, Long, Griffin, Keown, Sweeney, Shaughnessy, Kuhl, Kelly, Owusu, Fosu, Cardwell.
Subs: Ward, Dickie, Fridjonsson, Rinomhota, Novakovich.