Whilst the first team were dismantling Aston Villa on Friday night, Arsenal’s u23s thrashed the Everton u23s at Meadow Park.
Due to an unfortunate scheduling decision, Arsenal’s u23 match against Everton this week overlapped with the senior game at the Emirates Stadium, meaning most fans didn’t get a chance to see the youngsters in action.
That’s a shame, because it was a strong performance and a great result from Kevin Betsy’s side. Bouncing back from defeat at Anfield last week, the young Gunners kept the pressure on near the top of the PL2 table.
As usual, Arsenal set up in a three-at-the-back formation, with Zane Monlouis, Omar Rekik, and Mazeed Ogungbo starting at centre-back, and Arthur Okonkwo behind them in goal.
Joel Lopez and Ryan Alebiosu took the wing-back roles, with Charlie Patino, Tim Akinola, and Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand in midfield. Mika Biereth and Folarin Balogun started together up front.
There weren’t too many chances in the early stages of the game, with a few ‘almost’ moments for both teams as Biereth and Tom Cannon failed to quite connect in decent positions. Patino also saw a shot fly narrowly over the bar.
Eventually it was Arsenal’s star forward duo of Biereth and Balogun that broke the deadlock. The former picked up the ball ahead of the defence and slipped it in behind for team captain Balogun to finish with his weaker left foot.
That gave the young Gunners a 1-0 lead going into the break, which reflected a close battle in the first 45.
Arsenal came out the faster of the two sides after half-time, with Ogungbo heading a Patino free-kick against the bar. But Okonkwo was then called into action on a couple of occasions and responded with some strong saves.
Betsy made his first change of the game, with Zak Swanson coming on for Joel Lopez in the 58th minute. Lopez had picked up a yellow card a few minutes earlier.
With 16 minutes to go, the game still appeared to be in the balance, before Oulad M’hand continued his excellent run of form with another goal. The young midfielder made space for himself in a tight area of the box before finishing confidently for 2-0.
Just four minutes later, Arsenal had another. Once again, Biereth was the provider, playing another pass in behind for wing-back Alebiosu to finish. With two assists on the night and his team 3-0 up, Biereth came off for Nathan Butler-Oyedeji.
Joel Ideho also came on for Tim Akinola as Arsenal looked to see out the match, and they secured a big result with a fourth goal in injury time.
This time it was the wing-back on the other side, substitute Swanson, who finished off an Alebiosu cross from close range.
There were a few players who needed to bounce back from the disappointing 3-0 defeat to Liverpool last week, and they all did so well.
Among that list, Balogun and Biereth had drawn blanks at Anfield, so it was encouraging to see them both involved in the goals on this occasion. At the other end, Okonkwo had to make some great saves to maintain his clean sheet.
Oulad M’hand was perhaps one of few who did well in the Liverpool game, and his excellent form over the last month or so continued with another goal this time around.
The Arsenal u23s are back up to second in the Premier League 2 table, with a nice boost to their goal difference. West Ham will need to beat Manchester United by three goals and score at least four times to take second back on Saturday afternoon.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Everton
Okonkwo; Monlouis, Rekik, Ogungbo; Alebiosu, Patino, Akinola, S. Oulad M’hand, Lopez; Biereth, Balogun
Ejeheri, Swanson (for Lopez, 58), Butler-Oyedeji (for Biereth, 84), Taylor-Hart, Ideho (for Akinola, 87)
The u23s travel away to Leeds United next Friday, reuniting with former Arsenal striker Sam Greenwood. Greenwood has four goals and three assists this season, and he’ll likely be up for it in his first game against his former club since leaving in 2020.
In the meantime, Arsenal’s first team play a League Cup last-16 match against Leeds’ senior side on Tuesday.
Whilst the League Cup is usually an opportunity for Arsenal managers to give young players a chance, the fact that they’re playing Premier League opposition and don’t have European football to give to their squad players makes that seem unlikely.
We’re probably going to see a fairly strong side from Mikel Arteta, with some of the fringe first-teamers mixed in.
On form, Balogun, Patino, and Oulad M’hand are the players with a small outside chance of joining the squad. But I wouldn’t bet on it.