Arsenal u23s drew with Leicester City on Monday to leave them one point away from securing safety in Premier League 2 but where was Folarin Balogun?
The Arsenal u23s had the chance to secure their status in the Premier League 2’s top division with a win over relegation rivals Leicester City on Monday. But it wasn’t going to be easy, playing away from home with the hosts having won their last game 7-1.
Arsenal were also missing Folarin Balogun, whose new contract was announced on the same day. This suggests Balogun was held back for first-team training ahead of the Villarreal clash on Thursday, as he’ll probably make the senior squad for that game.
Interestingly, Miguel Azeez wasn’t held back, despite his recent appearances in Arteta’s squads. With Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe returning to fitness, perhaps there just isn’t space right now.
Nikolaj Moller started up front in his place, with Trae Coyle and George Lewis either side of him on the wings. Young Omari Hutchinson and Marcelo Flores got the chance to step up from the u18s to the u23 squad on the day.
Leicester had the best of the early chances, hitting the woodwork twice and forcing a goalline clearance after Thanawat Suengchitthawon rounded the goalkeeper and looked certain to score.
But Miguel Azeez started to drag Arsenal back into things, going close with a couple of chances.
In the 27th minute, Trae Coyle gave the young Gunners the lead, with Nikolaj Moller holding up the ball from an Arsenal goal kick and finding Coyle through on goal, who finished the chance clinically for 1-0.
Arsenal took control of the game for most of the rest of the half, with Moller creating another good chance for George Lewis, who missed the target, and there was time for Kido Taylor-Hart to go close as well.
With so much on the line, perhaps it was natural that the game wasn’t as free-flowing in the second period. Taylor-Hart and Coyle combined to create a chance early on, but that was the only major opportunity before Leicester’s equaliser in the 60th minute.
Suengchitthawon ran through on goal again, and initially, it seemed Arsenal would deny him again, with Tom Smith saving the first shot. But the Leicester striker turned home on the rebound.
Leicester then pushed to try and find a vital winner, but Arsenal stood firm and secured a point. Omari Hutchinson got the chance to make his u23 debut midway through the half, a well-deserved opportunity given his u18 form this season.
It was a bit of a frustrating draw having had the lead and the chances to extend it, but a defeat would have been a much bigger problem.
Lineup: Smith, Oyegoke, Dinzeyi, Kirk, Lopez, Akinola, Azeez, Taylor-Hart, Lewis, Coyle, Moller
Subs: Monlouis (for Kirk, 45), Hutchinson (for Lewis, 67), Bola (for Oyegoke, 70)
Unused subs: Hillson, Flores
What does this mean?
The Arsenal u23s are five points and two places clear of the relegation zone with two games to go. The two teams below them who can still overtake them are Leicester City (four points behind) and West Ham United (five points behind).
In Arsenal’s final two games, they face West Ham twice. Hence, a draw in either game would ensure the Hammers could no longer overtake Arsenal and they’re guaranteed safety.
Two defeats to West Ham, however, and Arsenal are guaranteed finishing behind the Hammers, leaving relegation up to Leicester City’s final two games.
Leicester face Liverpool twice. Two wins would be enough to overtake Arsenal in that scenario. One win and one draw might be enough, but only with a goal difference swing of seven in their one win and Arsenal’s two defeats.
To sum up, Arsenal will have two chances to secure safety this weekend. If they draw or win against West Ham on Saturday at 15:00 BST, they’re safe. If Liverpool beat Leicester on Sunday at 13:00 BST, again, Arsenal are safe. Fingers crossed.