Arsenal U23s 1-3 Liverpool U23s: Woodburn brace inspires Beale's young Reds to first win of the season

Arsenal U23s 1-3 Liverpool U23s: Woodburn brace inspires Beale's young Reds to first win of the season

Liverpool Under-23s earned their first victory of the 2016-17 Premier League 2 season with a commanding 3-1 win away at Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, Ben Woodburn's first-half double and Toni Gomes' tap-in helping them to the three points.

Charlie Malam

Ben Woodburn's fine first-half brace helped Liverpool Under-23s to secure a deserved first victory of the Premier League 2 season against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Friday night. 

The 16-year-old forward became a hot topic of conversation among the club's supporters just last month after impressing for the senior squad in pre-season, and opened the scoring after 13 minutes by finding the bottom corner.

Wales Under-17s captain Woodburn added a sublime second before half-time, running on to Toni Gomes' pass to bend an unstoppable effort into the top corner from the edge of the box.

Arsenal got back into the game when Chuba Akpom thrashed a shot off the crossbar on the turn in the second-half, but Liverpool made it 3-1 just four minutes later as Gomes turned into an empty net after goalkeeper Matt Macey's error.

That meant the young Reds bounced back ideally from their heavy defeats to Chelsea and Southampton to claim their three points of the new campaign at the third time of asking.

Reds start brighter than the hosts at the Emirates

Michael Beale named a strong starting side including Lucas Leiva, who had not featured for Jürgen Klopp's first-team since a friendly win at Huddersfield Town on July 17.

The Brazilian joined Andre Wisdom at centre-back, with Connor Randall at left-back and Trent Alexander-Arnold entrusted on the right.

Elsewhere, Cameron Brannagan and Ovie Ejaria - two of the club's highest-rated youngsters - helped make up the midfield with the quality of Harry Wilson, Gomes and Woodburn ahead of them.

Arsenal's squad too was packed full of young talent, including striker Akpom - on the bench for Liverpool's 4-3 win over Arsenal two weeks ago - as well as midfielders Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles and defender Krystian Bielik.

Beale called for his side to match the exploits of the Reds' first-team and their explosive win at the Emirates in their Premier League opener earlier this month - and they did so in starting very brightly.

Formerly of Arsenal's Academy, midfielder Ejaria, who starred with his composed displays in the Reds' first-team's pre-season, almost set Wilson away only for the forward to run into too many red shirts.

Liverpool then squandered an excellent opportunity to break the deadlock inside just six minutes, breaking forward with searing pace on the counter-attack.

Gomes found captain Wilson breaking into space to his right, only for the winger to drag his effort wide of the far post from a good position.

Woodburn opens the scoring early on

The visitors continued to forge the better early opportunities and Alexander-Arnold, overlapping on Wilson's run down the right-hand side, drilled a powerful effort just over as Liverpool threatened.

They finally had their deserved breakthrough as young Woodburn, who excelled in early pre-season by scoring twice in three games, made it 1-0.

Gomes failed to get a flick on Lucas' pass through the lines, but consequently allowed the ball to travel through for Wilson and he only needed to spot Woodburn's clever run in behind.

With the teenager breaking into the box, the U23s captain squared for the forward who needed just one touch to control and slot past Macey in goal.  

Going forward, the Reds continued to combine well and Wilson found vaste swathes of space in between Arsenal's defence and midfield - dropping into one such pocket before curling a shot from 25-yards which was too central to trouble Macey.

Arsenal's back-line struggled to deal with the direct running of Wilson, who strode through a number of challenges before being tripped by Bielik on the edge of the area in a fine show of individual quality on the 18th minute.

The Welshman, the youngest full international in his nation's history, could not convert the following free-kick which he curled over the bar, but it served only as a reminder of the Reds' potential going forward.

Liverpool soon had half-hearted shouts for a penalty when Wilson yet again broke beyond the defence but was brought down in trying to bring Randall's through ball under control, only for the referee to point for a corner.

Likewise, Arsenal too picked up dangerous areas of space going forward as they looked to respond, but they lacked the same cohesion and fluidity that Liverpool possessed and Lucas' experience at the back ensured Beale's side rarely had to survive extensive spells of pressure.

Dominant Liverpool add to their lead before half-time

The U23s regularly went close to adding to their lead throughout the remainder of the first-half, Gomes winning possession inside the opposing half, driving forward and finding Brannagan whose low shot deflected mere inches wide.

Arsenal steadily gained greater control of the ball as they looked to pull apart the organisation of the away side's defence - but they struggled to do so, Bielik's header from a corner forcing the only save Caoimhin Kelleher had to make after 37 minutes.

And before the break, it was 2-0 to Liverpool as Woodburn finished superbly to cap off another turnover of possession forced by high pressing. 

Lucas ran the length of the pitch to celebrate Woodburn's second. (Picture: Liverpool FC)
Lucas ran the length of the pitch to celebrate Woodburn's second. (Picture: Liverpool FC)

Gomes read a poor pass across the back, surged towards the box and squared a well-weighted pass to Woodburn, who powered a first-time right-footed shot into the top corner to double the advantage.

At half-time, Lucas was withdrawn for versatile defender Joe Maguire but despite the 30-year-old's absence, Liverpool continued to enjoy the better of the game.

Gomes ran free of Macey in the box after connecting with a pass, only to find himself at too tight an angle after rounding the 'keeper, and Woodburn's follow-up shot was well blocked.

Still, Liverpool were lively in the final third - thanks mainly due to their aggressive pressing high up the pitch - and had more shouts for a penalty after Brannagan went down under light contact from Reine-Adelaide but correctly, nothing was given.

Though Kelleher had had little to do for much of the evening, he was forced to dive low to hold Reine-Adelaide's curling strike following a short corner - but the Irishman saved comfortably.

Only a few minutes later, Wisdom had to be in the right position to head clear Chris Willock's far-post volley with Kelleher and the rest of his teammates all but beaten on the line.

Gomes quickly cancels out Akpom's effort 

Arsenal sustained their dominance and finally earned their reward on 67 minutes. Willock's turn of pace allowed him to get the better of Alexander-Arnold down the left and make his way into the box to pick out Akpom, whose shot on the turn found the net via the underside of the bar.

But it took less than four minutes to Liverpool to find a response. With Wilson down on the touchline with a knock, Brannagan took a corner kick in his absence. Maguire leapt to win the initial header and the ball looped up into the air and invited Macey to come off his line and try and collect.

Gomes scored the away side's third of the evening. (Picture: Liverpool FC)
Gomes scored the away side's third of the evening. (Picture: Liverpool FC)

But the goalkeeper misjudged the dropping ball, with the diminutive Woodburn managing to flick a header towards goal where Gomes turned into an empty net to restore a two-goal advantage.

Arsenal, having made a double change between the two goals, made their final substitution with 15 minutes remaining but couldn't engineer a way back into the game as Liverpool's youngsters held out for a welcome first win of the season.