Arsenal u23s went top of the league, for a day, after beating Blackburn Rovers 3-1 at Meadow Park on Friday.
Arsenal went into the match knowing that a win would put them top temporarily, though they won’t remain there for the rest of the weekend.
Chelsea are one point behind with better goal difference, whilst Derby are two behind. Any result between the two clubs in their match on Saturday lunchtime will see one of them retake the lead.
On the positive side, Arsenal will still have gained one place overall, from third to second. Let’s have a look at how they managed it.
Arsenal u23s 3-1 Blackburn Rovers
Steve Bould named a very similar team to his usual lineup, with a few notable changes. Harry Clarke picked up a knock against Villarreal, and he missed out on the match. Zech Medley replaced him.
Senior third-choice goalkeeper Matt Macey got a game ahead of Karl Hein, whilst Tobi Omole came in for Tolaji Bola at left-back.
Emile Smith Rowe also kept his place in the side. He continues to push for senior chances following his complete recovery from injury.
Tyreece John-Jules had an early chance after a nice through ball from Matt Smith, but his attempt to poke the ball past the keeper rebounded off them both and out of play.
Robbie Burton then volleyed wide from a Nathan Tormey cross, and Trae Coyle bent a free-kick just wide. Blackburn had one or two half-chances, but Arsenal were certainly on top in the early stages.
The young Gunners made that pressure count with Coyle finishing off a devastating counter-attack. Konstantinos Mavropanos brought the ball out of defence and played in Smith Rowe, who bent a pass in behind the Blackburn backline for Coyle to finish for 1-0.
The lead was doubled within minutes. Zech Medley poked home from close range, but a lot of the credit has to go elsewhere.
Firstly, Nathan Tormey won a corner after chasing down a total lost cause. The winger’s fantastic pace saw him just reach the ball in time to kick it off an opponent and out of play. Smith crossed the ball in for John-Jules to head onto the post, and the rebound fell to Medley for 2-0.
Macey made another great save to maintain Arsenal’s clean sheet before another counter made it 3-0.
Smith Rowe was involved again, playing in John-Jules this time. The striker hit a weak-foot shot so powerfully into the top corner I had to double-check it was him and not a left-footed player.
The Gunners went in 3-0 up at half-time after one of the best performances of the season so far.
Bould’s side were clearly comfortable to sit on their lead for a while in the second half, with only one real chance for either side in the first 15 minutes. Smith Rowe curled an effort from the edge of the box narrowly wide.
The midfielder then came off James Olayinka, whilst Mark McGuinness replaced Tobi Omole. It’s possible Arsenal are saving Smith Rowe to be available for Monday’s game if necessary. He’s certainly playing well enough to deserve a chance.
Zak Swanson went down injured a few minutes later, and he was forced to end his participation in the match. The injury came out of nowhere, so Arsenal weren’t ready for the substitution and had to play with 10 men temporarily until Joseph Olowu was ready.
Despite all the changes, Arsenal rediscovered their dominance in the match. Coyle hit the bar after great work by Tormey on the left-hand side, before John-Jules had multiple chances to make it four with Blackburn putting some good last-ditch blocks in.
Blackburn then pulled one back. Harry Chapman found himself free in the box at the far post after a cross and placed the ball past Macey with a simple finish. Macey had to make another good save to keep it at 3-1 minutes later, but it was too late for the away side to make a real comeback.
In fact, Tormey had the last chance of the game. He hit the post after a cut-back, Arsenal’s third time hitting the woodwork in the match.
The final score was 3-1. Arsenal took the three points they needed and a good performance to go with them.
Lineup: Macey, Swanson, Mavropanos, Medley, Omole, Smith, Burton, Smith Rowe, Tormey, John-Jules, Coyle
Subs: Olayinka (for Smith Rowe, 62), McGuinness (for Omole, 62), Olowu (for Swanson, 71)
Unused Subs: Hein, McEneff