Arsenal u23s topped their Premier League International Cup group with a comfortable win over Leicester City on Friday night.
Going into their game with Leicester City, the Arsenal u23s were dealing with a few key losses. Striker Tyreece John-Jules left for Lincoln on loan. Star midfielder Emile Smith Rowe joined Huddersfield until the end of the season.
Starting centre-back Konstantinos Mavropanos signed a loan deal with FC Nurnberg. Goalkeeper Matt Macey now works with Bernd Leno and Emi Martinez on matchdays, making him unavailable for the u23 fixtures.
Then there are injuries and suspensions. Left-back Tolaji Bola got a red against Everton in the previous game. Trae Coyle and Mark McGuinness are out with injuries. Not ideal circumstances, but also not out of the ordinary for an academy team.
The remaining players had to pull together and get a result against Leicester on Friday to qualify for the knockout stages of the Premier League International Cup.
After their late win over Dinamo Zagreb, a draw for Arsenal against Leicester would see them through, but a win would ensure top spot in the group.
Despite all the absentees, one of Arsenal’s key partnerships remained intact. Folarin Balogun (centre-forward) and Matt Smith (deep-lying central midfielder) have a fantastic connection, with the former getting on the end of the latter’s long passes regularly.
It was that link-up that led to the opening goal. Balogun raced through on goal after a ball over the top, forced a good save, and the ball fell to Nathan Tormey. Tormey shielded it well and drew the foul from the goalkeeper for a penalty.
Robbie Burton finished the spot-kick confidently, firing into the top-left corner.
Tormey caused a lot of problems on the left-hand side in the first half, at one point leaving a Leicester defender flat on his face after a quick change of direction. He created some great chances and went close with a shot of his own.
The winger started the second half just as impressively, curling an early cross in for Balogun. The striker’s header deflected narrowly wide.
Balogun then did get on the scoresheet, from his hardest chance of the lot so far. After his initial control saw the ball bouncing up by his left foot at the edge of the box, it didn’t look much like a scoring opportunity. Nevertheless, he fired into the top corner.
Weak foot half-volley? 😳
— Arsenal Academy (@ArsenalAcademy) January 17, 2020
James Olayinka scored a third after an expertly controlled pass in the air from Tormey. The midfielder finished confidently for his third goal in four games.
Arsenal looked to make it four in the latter stages, as Balogun raced onto substitute Ben Cottrell’s pass. Leicester defender Mitchell Clark had clearly had enough though, and he cynically tripped Balogun right outside the box, taking a red card.
Special mention has to go to Karl Hein in goal for Arsenal. It was honestly the best game I’ve ever seen him play, with save after save ensuring the win was as comfortable as it was.
Even when a Leicester player ran through from an offside position to head into the corner, Hein still kept it out. The clean sheet was the least he deserved.
Hein, Swanson, Medley, Clarke, Omole, Smith, Burton, McEneff, Tormey, Balogun, Olayinka
Olowu (for McEneff, 75), Hillson, Greenwood, Cottrell (for Tormey, 90), Oyegoke (for Swanson, 89)