The Arsenal u23s thrashed Blackburn Rovers 6-0 in a surprising first win of the Premier League 2 season on Friday.
Steve Bould’s u23 side were preparing for a tough game on Friday night, facing undefeated Blackburn Rovers. The hosts had three wins and two draws from their first five league games, whilst Arsenal had no wins in seven.
After a tight first half, Arsenal took the lead just before the break through summer signing Nikolaj Moller. Folarin Balogun wriggled through the Blackburn defence before his strike partner stabbed home from close range for 1-0.
This proved the turning point in the match, as Arsenal began to dominate. Young midfielder Catalin Cirjan was next to score, a few minutes after the break. Assisted by Moller, he fired into the top corner from 20 yards.
Balogun then got his second assist, this time for Emile Smith Rowe – who was using this match to build his fitness after injury. By the 61st minute, Smith Rowe had scored again, with 16-year-old right-back Brooke Norton-Cuffy setting him up.
Arsenal added a fifth in the 67th minute, as Blackburn’s Dan Pike unintentionally turned in a Joel Lopez cross.
Bould took the opportunity provided by the 5-0 advantage to hand out some debuts. First he brought on u18 striker Khayon Edwards, then u18 centre-back Zane Monlouis, and finally summer signing Joel Ideho.
Ideho ended up setting up the sixth goal, another for Moller. That made it two goals and an assist for the Swedish striker on the night, and three goals in three games for him since joining the Arsenal u23s.
Encouraging displays all-around
Joseph Olowu deserves a mention, returning to Arsenal after his loan spell at Cork City. The centre-back started the u23 clash and helped them to a rare clean sheet, the first of the season for any academy team from the u18 to u23 age groups.
Moller is clearly making a big impression, whilst Balogun earned a lot of praise on the night despite not getting on the scoresheet. Not to mention Smith Rowe’s starring role on his injury comeback.
The Arsenal youth scouting team deserves some credit, as Moller, Ideho, Lopez and Cirjan were all involved in the goals, players Arsenal signed at the age of 16+.
Defensive midfielder Tim Akinola is another recent signing, and he earned high praise from opposition reporter Rich Sharpe, who wrote he was “up there with Anthony Elanga, of Manchester United, as the best opposition player I’ve seen this season in PL2.”
When you win 6-0, everyone deserves some of the credit. The job now is to make sure it isn’t a one-off.
Next up, the Arsenal u23 side will play back in the EFL Trophy. Officially, it’s the u21s playing the match, but it’s the same team. They face Gillingham away on Tuesday in their final group game, needing a draw to top it.