Fulham’s Under 21s fell to a narrow defeat at Arsenal tonight despite a resilient defensive display at the Emirates Stadium.
The Whites, who beat Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 last Friday to win their opening league fixture, were on the back foot for much of the contest as Arsenal dominated possession and will be bitterly disappointed to have left north London with scant reward for their endeavour. Peter Grant’s side held out until just four minutes from time when a flowing Arsenal move was expertly finished off by Gedion Zelalem, who steered a low shot beyond Jesse Joronen after swapping passes with Alex Iowbi and Glen Kamara.
Fulham had largely stifled Arsenal’s attacking threat until that point, although Joronen – who looked in fine form on his first appearance for the Under 21s since suffering cruciate ligament damage whilst on loan at Accrington Stanley last season – made three outstanding save to preserve parity. He made a fine reflex stop diving away to his left to push aside a Stephy Mavididi shot from Tafari Moore’s cross after half an hour and did superbly to turn a volley from debutant Jeff Rene-Adelaide onto the crossbar. With twenty minutes to go, Ben Sheaf’s instinctive snapshot was palmed away by Joronen, but the Finnish international was eventually beaten by that composed finish from the highly-rated Zelalem.
Grant had set his side up to frustrate the Gunners, deploying Emerson Hyndman as a deep-lying midfielder alongside Josh Smile at the base of a three-man central midfield. Captain Dean O’Halloran ran determinedly from a wide position all evening, but lone striker Aaron Redford was largely anonymous. O’Halloran drilled Fulham’s best chance wide in the first half shortly after Josh Smile had hit a shot straight at Matt Macey, but the clearest opening came for substitute Stevie Humphries who headed an inviting cross from the impressive Jordan Evans wide.
ARSENAL UNDER 21s (4-2-3-1): Macey; Moore, Bola, Bielik, Pleguezuelo; Zelalem, Kamara; Sheaf, Rene-Adelaide (Eyoma 90), Iwobi; Mavididi (Fortune 69). Subs (not used): Iliev, O’Connor, Mourgas.
GOAL: Zelalem (86).
FULHAM UNDER 21s (4-3-3): Joronen; Sheckleford, Evans, Pinot, Burgess; Hyndman, Smile (De la Torre 60), Cole; O’Halloran (Humphries 75), Weymans, Redford (Kait 53). Subs (not used): Rodak, Elworthy.