The Arsenal u23s went top of the PL2 table in front of a big Elland Road crowd after coming from behind twice to beat Leeds United.
The task at hand on Friday was to keep that new momentum going with another win against Leeds United.
With a crowd of 8,934 Leeds fans watching on, Kevin Betsy’s side were certainly under a bit more pressure than they might be used to. Even the game against Liverpool at Anfield only drew less than a third of the spectators, at 2,448.
Leeds took the lead in somewhat unfortunate circumstances for Arsenal. Mazeed Ogungbo was down on the floor after a foul (which was given, but the referee played advantage) before Leeds won the ball and ran past the injured Arsenal man to score.
Arsenal held onto the ball too long for the referee to pull it back for the foul, but it always feels a bit unfair when the opponents take advantage of an injured player playing everyone onside to score.
The inevitable element to the goal was that it was former Gunner Sam Greenwood who scored it. It was a simple finish from the centre of the box after a cutback, but another positive moment for the 19-year-old this season.
Greenwood had made a substitute appearance against the Arsenal first team earlier in the week, and he was looking to avoid two defeats in a few days to his old club. But the away side at Elland Road quickly drew level for 1-1.
After Ogungbo was substituted off with his injury for Kido Taylor-Hart, Folarin Balogun put the goalkeeper under pressure and forced a miskick to Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand.
The midfielder still had a huge amount to do, but he beat his man before curling in a shot over a defender and the goalkeeper from 24 yards out.
— ENDM_GOAL🇲🇦 (@ENDM_GOAL) October 30, 2021
Following his own first-team call-up this week, Oulad M’hand now has five goals in six academy games from midfield.
Buoyed by the hefty home support, Leeds rallied and retook the lead before half time.
Moments earlier, Balogun hit the post with a tough chance created through impressive work by Mika Biereth, but Tim Akinola gave the ball away in midfield and Leeds scored via Max Dean at the end of a quick counter-attack.
Arsenal needed a fast start to the second half, with Jack Henry-Francis coming on for Oulad M’hand over the break. Fortunately, they took just 18 seconds to find an equaliser.
Straight from the kick-off, Balogun raced down the line and into the box, cutting the ball back for Brooke Norton-Cuffy to shoot. Norton-Cuffy was making his first appearance for the team following his recent injury.
The right-wing-back’s deflected effort trickled under the goalkeeper and towards the goalline, before Mika Biereth made sure it went over by prodding it away from the scrambling goalie’s grasp.
Whilst Arsenal and Norton-Cuffy claimed the goal was his after the game, I’m afraid the Premier League validate my own assessment that it wasn’t over the line before Biereth’s touch.
So it’s Biereth’s goal, though Balogun and Norton-Cuffy deserve a lot of credit for their roles in it.
The game opened up again as both teams looked to take the lead, and it was the two Arsenal substitutes that helped them find one.
Henry-Francis turned his man well before playing an excellent through ball to Taylor-Hart, who rounded the goalkeeper and was brought down for a penalty. Balogun dispatched the spot-kick confidently into the bottom-left corner for 3-2.
Leeds pushed up to try and find the game’s third equalising goal, and Karl Hein had to make an excellent stop from close range to deny them at one stage. But Arsenal started to dominate the chances by the final 10 minutes.
First, Joel Lopez had a shot saved, then Akinola created a fantastic chance for Biereth, who skied his effort.
Akinola was involved again as Arsenal finally made it 4-2, as he rode an unfair challenge from Greenwood before playing Balogun in behind.
The Arsenal striker cut back onto his left foot to leave the defender on the ground, before squaring for Lopez to score a tap-in.
Arsenal could even have had more goals in the final moments, with Balogun curling a free-kick just wide and third substitute Joel Ideho missing from a decent position. But it finished 4-2.
The big positive of the win and Manchester City’s draw against Brighton is that Arsenal ended the day on top of the table.
They may lose that spot if West Ham win their game in hand on Monday away to Leicester City, as West Ham are three points behind with superior goal difference. Still, Arsenal are undoubtedly part of the Premier League 2 title race right now.
Balogun probably deserves the Man of the Match award for Arsenal, scoring one, assisting one, and playing a big role in the other two goals, as well as hitting the post. His influence was felt in every goal of the game.
Biereth also really grew into the match, and Taylor-Hart made a big impact from the bench despite his limited recent minutes.
Of course, Oulad M’hand is continuing to make waves after another goal for the academy. Six goal contributions in six games is an impressive record for his position, and it’s little wonder he’s getting first-team call-ups.
We can only hope his half-time substitution wasn’t related to any kind of injury, and that he was being saved for Tuesday’s game.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Leeds United
Hein, Monlouis, Rekik, Ogungbo, Lopez, S. Oulad M’hand, Akinola, Swanson, Norton-Cuffy, Biereth, Balogun
Ejeheri, Henry-Francis (for S. Oulad M’hand, 45), Butler-Oyedeji, Taylor-Hart (for Ogungbo, 24), Ideho (for Swanson, 72)
Arsenal travel away to high-flying League One leaders Plymouth Argyle in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday at 19:45 GMT.
Arsenal need a two-goal win to mathematically secure progression to the knockout stages themselves, though any win, draw or even a defeat could be enough if the score in the other game goes the right way (meaning a Swindon Town win over Newport County).
To keep it in their own hands, that two-goal win should be the target.
Unfortunately, Plymouth are desperate for a win of their own, having suffered shock defeats in their other two group games. They need a big win to have any chance of progressing, and their league form shows they have the quality to get it.
After that, Arsenal return to Premier League 2 action against Leicester City u23s on November 6th at 13:00 GMT.