A much-changed Sky Blues XI went down 3-0 to Arsenal U21s in the club’s opening game of the Checkatrade Trophy at the Ricoh Arena.
With the manager utilising the full-depth of his squad, City’s players would have been relishing the chance to impress Mark Robins. Though the team experienced the worst possible start, as 18-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe sprang free of the defence to slide his shot past Liam O’Brien, putting Freddie Ljunberg’s youngsters ahead on 4 minutes.
One of several players to be making his first competitive start of the season, Reise Allassani threatened an immediate reply as he burst down the left-hand side, only to sweep his shot into the side-netting. Chris Camwell then sealed the Sky Blues intent with his whipped delivery from a free-kick leading to Tony Andreu heading just wide of the post.
In a bright start to the game, Arsenal were keen to extend their lead, and came close when Joe Willock succeeded in bending his free-kick around the City wall from the edge of the area. However, O’Brien proved equal to the shot, as his left hand tipped the ball around the post.
After a brief lull in play, it was Camwell’s set piece delivery that, again, seemed pivotal to the Sky Blues attack. A perfectly weighted, floated cross was met by Tom Davies in the centre of goal, but a mistimed jump saw the ball sail wide, on the mark.
The 19-year-old full-back shone once more, moments later, as another precise delivery was planted into Amadou Bakayoko’s path. Meeting the ball perfectly, the striker’s header skimmed the crossbar of Dejan Iliev’s goal to rouse both sets of supporters into applause.
Having gone close once, Bakayoko went on a powerful run down the right-hand side, cutting inside to unleash a well-struck shot that landed on the top of the Arsenal goal, seemingly more by luck than Iliev’s judgement.
From the resultant corner, after an initial clearance, a Tony Andreu cross reached Jordy Hiwula, six yards from goal, but the former Manchester City man couldn’t quite get the ball under control to capitalise on the potential tap in.
Shortly after the fourth official had lowered his board to reveal the first-half stoppage time, Hiwula was once again greeted with a chance to put Robins’ team on level terms. A cross from the left, aimed towards Bakayoko, missed the front man but was gathered by City’s number 11, whose – potentially spectacular – first-time volley finished high and wide of the left-hand post.
Similar to the first-half, it was Arsenal that had the earliest chances after the break. Robbie Burton and Zech Medley both had chances in quick succession that threatened O’Brien’s goal. A stinging shot into the near right-hand side by Burton resulted in a low corner; Medley steering his effort just wide of the same post.
Around the hour mark, City made their first change of the game, with Dujon Sterling making way for Morgan Williams, in what was the 19-year-old’s debut for the club, following his summer mover from Mickelover Sports.
Midway through the second-half, Hiwula again had a chance to bring City level. Reise Allassani, an impressive performer throughout on his first competitive start, thread the 23-year-old through on goal after a mazy run, but his shot could only hit Iliev, as the Macedonian keeper closed down the space.
However, in another back-and-forth between the two sides, Hiwula’s effort provoked a swift response from Ljunberg’s men, as substitute Eddie Nketiah squared the ball for Tyreece John-Jules to fire his effort the wrong side of the near post.
City pressured throughout the game to restore parity, though, after briefly turning provider, Nketiah, the 19-year-old striker, steepened the Sky Blues’ already uphill battle as h doubled Arsenal’s lead on 78 minutes. A mix-up in communication led the substitute through on goal and he tucked his shot neatly beyond O’Brien.
Despite the setback, City did rally in response. Shortly after the restart, Allassani sent the ball wide with a header, after stretching for Hiwula’s far-post cross, but just failed to bring his effort under control.
Though there were late competitive debuts for Zain Westbrooke and Billy Stedman, Arsenal’s Joe Willock — after seeing his free-kick denied in the first-half — compounded City’s misery by scoring Arsenal’s third goal in the final few minutes.
City will next face Forest Green in the Checkatrade Trophy on 9th October, as the tournament’s group stages continue.
Attendance: 2,375 (183)
Goals: Emile Smith-Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock.
Yellows: Robbie Burton
Sky Blues XI: Liam O’Brien (GK), Dujon Sterling (60’), Jordon Thompson, Tom Davies, Chris Camwell, Abu Ogogo (C), Liam Kelly (72’), Jordy Hiwula, Tony Andreu, Reise Allassani (86’), Amadou Bakayoko.
Subs: Corey Addai (GK), Sam McCallum, Morgan Williams (60’), Josh Eccles, Zain Westbrooke (72’), Billy Stedman (86’), Jonathan Ngandu.
Arsenal U21 XI: Dejan Iliev (GK), Tolaji Bola, Julio Pleguezuelo (C) (88’), Zech Medley, Joseph Olowu (45’), Charlie Gilmour, Joe Willock, James Olayinka, Robbie Burton (72’), Emile Smith-Rowe, Tyreece John-Jules.
Subs: Arthur Okonwo (GK), Tobi Omole (45’), Dominic Thompson, Trae Coyle, Gedion Zelalem, Bukayo Saka (87’), Eddie Nketiah (72’).