U21 play-off final match report: Arsenal U21 3-1 Villa U21
Our youngsters just fell short in their Barclays U21 Premier League Division Two play-off final, despite an impressive showing against Arsenal at the Emirates.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy's early goal gave the B6 outfit a 10th-minute lead before Chris Willock's leveller and a Stephy Mavididi brace turned the contest on its head to deny Villa what would have been the perfect reward to cap off a fine season.
Much like in their semi-final meeting with Blackburn, the Gunners fielded a strong matchday squad - Santi Cazorla, Calum Chambers, Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell all starting.
Yet Kevin MacDonald's side coped aptly and pressed high up the park from kick-off.
And they led after just 10 minutes.
Hepburn-Murphy's header from Andre Green's cross gave them a deserved lead having dominated the early stages.
The young forward went close moments prior while Jerell Sellars, back from his loan spell at Wycombe, saw a strike edge narrowly wide.
Cazorla went close with a free-kick before he teed up the experienced Francis Coquelin for a first-time volley.
The Gunners enjoyed a lot of possession but were frustrated by the visitors.
A fine save from goalkeeper Matija Sarkic denied Cazorla as Arsenal upped the tempo.
They were level 10 minutes shy of the interval - Willock firing home Mavididi's cutback.
The home side dominated proceedings as the first period drew to a close.
Campbell, another player with top-flight experience, embarked on a marauding run, his effort clawed away by the Villa stopper.
Neither side left anything on the field in the first period but both came out of the traps from the outset as the second 45 minutes were underway.
Green was unfortunate not to earn another assist - his lofted cross headed behind for a corner.
The lively Willock continued to cause problems, firing into the side netting when a pass seemed the more appropriate option.
MacDonald's youngsters could have regained the lead on the hour - Sellars unfortunate to see a goalbound effort take a deflection and trickle into the arms of stopper Matt Macey.
The hosts were ahead moments later - another pinpoint delivery from Willock, converted by Mavididi.
In the same manner as throughout their 2015/16 campaign, Villa never gave up and continued to play attractive, fast flowing football.
With the visitors urged forward from the dugout, skipper Lyden was unfortunate to see his crisp low drive kept out by Macey.
Only last-ditch defending from the Gunners backline prevented Villa from carving clear openings as they put their opponents well on the back foot.
Mavididi's left-footed finish with three minutes of the regulation 90 minutes remaining made the game safe, the sense of relief apparent from those of a red and white persuasion.
Arsenal U21: Macey, Pleguezuelo (C), Bielik, Chambers, Moore , Coquelin, Cazorla (Hinds 82), Campbell (Sheaf 82), Reine-Adelaide, Willock, Mavididi. Unused subs: Keto, Johnson, Gnabry.
Villa U21: Sarkic, Webb, Mason, Suliman, Kinsella, Hale (Doyle-Hayes 76), Lyden (C), Green (Blackett-Taylor 57), Sellars, Davis (O'Hare 62), Hepburn-Murphy. Unused subs: Johansson, Leggett.