The Hatters turned in an impressive performance in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Arsenal this afternoon, with Rob Edwards’ side emerging with great credit from a goalless draw with the Premier League leaders at their London Colney training ground.
Mikel Arteta’s Gunners had six players in their starting line-up who had recently returned from the World Cup, including England trio Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Bukayo Saka.
The other three who had represented their country in Qatar were Thomas Partey (Ghana), Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) and Gabriel Martinelli (Brazil), while captain Martin Ødegaard - the Norway skipper and former Real Madrid midfielder - also featured from the off, along with Rob Holding, Cedric and Eddie Nketiah.
The Hatters lined up with both of their World Cup players in action, with USA keeper Ethan Horvath behind Wales defender Tom Lockyer, who welcomed back Dan Potts alongside him after a back injury sustained in the November win at Blackpool, with Gabe Osho on the right of the back three.
James Bree and Alfie Doughty were wide, with Jordan Clark, Louie Watson and ex-Arsenal man Luke Freeman in midfield, while Elijah Adebayo and top scorer Carlton Morris were paired up front.
Nketiah had seen an early header fielded comfortably by Horvath before the Hatters started to ask questions at the other end, Adebayo’s strength winning an eighth minute corner that Freeman swung in for Potts to head just wide at the far post.
Town were more than a match for their hosts in an opening quarter in which neither side created a clear cut chance, although a couple of promising attacks were aborted with offside flags against Adebayo.
The Hatters front men were proving a handful though, and posed their first serious threat in the 26th minute when Morris saw a 20-yard shot tipped around the post by a flying Ramsdale, who then had to get down low to save an effort from Clark as the Gunners struggled to clear the corner.
Five minutes later it was Adebayo’s turn to test the former Sheffield United stopper, with a shot from the edge of the area after Morris had pinched possession on the halfway line.
Adebayo proved useful in his own box on 38 minutes, getting in a good block to deflect a shot from Partey well wide of Horvath’s goal.
But it was the Hatters who once again looked the most likely to break the deadlock three minutes before the break when Watson went on a jinking run into the box, before cutting back for Adebayo to swivel and hit a shot that Ramsdale once again dived low to his right to keep out.
Martinelli curled a 20-yarder high and wide just before the interval, when Edwards made two changes, bringing Amari’i Bell on in place of Potts, and Cauley Woodrow for Morris.
Arsenal brought on the USA’s number one World Cup keeper Matt Turner at the break, but it was Horvath who was first into action in the second half, saving well from Martinelli.
Town were playing some fine passing football, however, and after Edwards made three changes on the hour with Allan Campbell, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Cameron Jerome coming on, the next chance came their way, with Bell standing up a lovely cross from the left byline for Bree to volley narrowly wide, and into the side netting at the far post.
With several changes to both sides taking place as the half progressed, the hosts started to ask more questions as Xhaka fired over and White hit a shot well wide, before the England defender got in down the right with just over ten minutes left, only for Horvath to deny him with a smart save with his feet.
The Hatters still threatened on the break, and Woodrow – who had looked lively in his first minutes since being injured in September – struck an 86th minute shot that was on target but hit Cornick, who was standing in an offside position.
All in all, Edwards will have been delighted by an excellent Town performance against a star-studded Arsenal line-up ahead of the Boxing Day clash with Norwich City, as Championship action finally returns to Kenilworth Road after six weeks without a home game.
HOW THEY LINED UP
Town: Horvath, Bree, Potts (Bell), Lockyer, Morris (Woodrow), Adebayo (Jerome), Clark (Berry), Watson (Mpanzu), Freeman (Campbell), Osho, Doughty (Cornick).
Arsenal: Ramsdale (Turner), White (Sousa), Holding, Gabriel (Foran), Cedric, Partey (Sambi), Xhaka (Elneny), Ødegaard (Cozier-Duberry), Saka (Viera), Martinelli (Marquinhos), Nketiah (Cirjan).