Folarin Balogun scored another brace as the Arsenal u23s topped the Premier League 2 table with a win over Brighton on Friday night.
The Arsenal u23s hosted Brighton at the Emirates Stadium in a clash between two of the high-flying teams of the early Premier League 2 season.
Arsenal drew with league leaders Manchester City a week earlier, but they’d won their previous four league games in a row to leave them just one point off top spot. With City not playing until Saturday, Kevin Betsy’s side had the chance to go top.
Betsy used the same formation he’s employed for the last month or so, with Folarin Balogun and Mika Biereth partnered up top, Joel Lopez and Ryan Alebiosu as wing-backs, and Tim Akinola, Charlie Patino, and Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand in midfield.
Karl Hein started in goal on this occasion, whilst the back three was comprised of Omar Rekik, Mazeed Ogungbo, and Zane Monlouis.
As so often since the start of September, Balogun was the man to give Arsenal an early lead.
The youth striker was fouled clumsily in the area and got up to take the penalty. His initial effort down the middle was saved, but he turned in the rebound for 1-0.
At the time, the goal took a bit of the pressure off, as Arsenal had started the match somewhat tentatively. Brighton were the better team for 10 minutes or so, but Betsy’s side grew into the game and started to dominate the chances.
Around the half-hour mark, the in-form Oulad M’hand made it 2-0, finishing off a nice team move. Patino weighted a pass out to Lopez, who cut back for Oulad M’hand to finish.
Arsenal should have been further ahead at the break, with a couple of poor decisions in and around the penalty area wasting some really good positions. But the two chances they did put away were enough for a comfortable lead at half-time.
The second period went in much the same way, with Brighton coming out of the blocks fast but Arsenal quickly settling and taking control.
The game realistically ended as a contest when Balogun made it 3-0 with yet another penalty.
Once again, it was a spot-kick the Arsenal man won himself, and this time it was with an expert piece of skill. Drawing a defender over to the corner flag, Balogun flicked it through the right-back’s legs and sprinted around him, before being fouled in the area.
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) October 1, 2021
Balogun stepped up to take the second penalty as well, and in all honesty, it wasn’t much better than the first. But the goalkeeper couldn’t quite stop it and the scoreline put Arsenal in control.
With 20 minutes to go, Arsenal brought on Omari Hutchinson for Akinola and Reuell Walters for Alebiosu, who was on a booking.
Hutchinson had a positive impact, driving at the opposition as he loves to do. It’s a shame he hasn’t been more involved recently, but it’s been difficult to find him a spot in the team in the current formation.
An injury to Monlouis then put a bit of a dampener on the evening, with James Olayinka coming on to replace him in the latter stages. Patino went down with a knock as well, but he seemed to be okay after receiving treatment.
Arsenal cruised over the finish line, and neither team really seemed to have their heart in the game by the time the final whistle blew. The match was wrapped up long before that.
The Arsenal u23s went top of the Premier League 2 table with the emphatic win, at least temporarily. Just six games after a poor 6-1 defeat to West Ham on the opening day of the season, that’s quite an impressive achievement.
New Arsenal u23 boss Kevin Betsy has really turned things around, and he’s getting the best out of the 11 he’s putting out each week.
No doubt the inclusion of Folarin Balogun has helped. He now has six goals and an assist in four PL2 games this season. The injury returns of the likes of Charlie Patino and Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand has also been important.
But Betsy has also helped some other players to stand out. Joel Lopez and Tim Akinola both had mixed campaigns last season, but they’re really taking to their current roles in the team. Ryan Alebiosu has never looked so impressive as he does right now.
Combine that with all the talent around them, and there’s a reason the u23s are doing so well right now.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Brighton
Hein; Monlouis, Ogungbo, Rekik; Alebiosu, Patino, Akinola, Oulad M’hand, Lopez; Biereth, Balogun
Ejeheri, Walters (for Alebiosu, 78), Olayinka (for Monlouis, 83), Hutchinson (for Akinola, 70), Taylor-Hart
Arsenal don’t play any Premier League 2 games until after the international break, facing Liverpool away from home on October 16th. But they do have matches in other competitions before that.
First, the u23s take on Bournemouth in the Premier League Cup on October 6th. Then the u21s take on Newport County AFC in the EFL Trophy on October 12th.
This is slightly problematic, as the likes of Balogun, Biereth, and Patino will be away with their countries’ youth teams on international duty.
Arsenal will have to find creative solutions up front, in particular. Perhaps Khayon Edwards could get an u23 opportunity, or Betsy may opt for the likes of Nathan Butler-Oyedeji and Kido Taylor-Hart, who have played there before.
It’s certainly not going to be easy to keep the recent run of good results going over the break. But it’s an opportunity for some fringe u23 players to come to the fore.