Arsenal’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the NextGen Series are in the balance after they were held to a goalless draw by a strong ten man Athletic Bilbao on Thursday night.
The Spanish side are renowned for their academy and they showed why within ten seconds of kick off as some neat interplay sent Inaki Williams through. The pacey forward seemed to not believe his luck at having such an early chance, and his low shot was well saved by Charles-Cook, who had an impressive night.
In a frenetic and highly-entertaining first half, Arsenal went close through Jon Toral and Martin Angha, but it was the hosts who had the best opportunity.
This was a penalty in the twenty-third minute, which captain Guillermo Fernandez stepped up to take. A well-taken penalty was matched by a crucial save from Charles-Cook.
The drama continued 10 minutes later as Bilbao captain Fernandez was shown a straight red card after catching Sead Hajrovic with an elbow in an aeriel challenge. The Arsenal defender later had to have stiches to the wound.
It was the opening that the Gunners needed, but despite carving out good chances for Serge Gnabry and Angha, they could find no way through a resolute and organised defence.
Burton’s side made a bright start to the second period, and went close through Eisfeld, Angha and Gnabry in quick succession as they went in search of the goal that would help keep their NextGen Series dream alive.
To Bilbao’s credit, they remained a real threat going forward despite their numerical disadvantage, and kept their shape and discipline at the back to frustrate Arsenal.
Midway through the opening period they began to exert some concerted pressure on the Arsenal goal, as Unai Lopez and Fernandez both came close to breaking the deadlock.
Gnabry remained a lively presence on the right flank for Arsenal, and he created the best opportunity of the half in the closing stages as he weaved in from the right but saw his firm shot held by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
That proved to be the last effort of a richly-entertaining night in northern Spain.
The result leaves the two sides in 3rd and 4th position in Group 6, though still with the possibility to qualify. Click here to view the group table.