The Arsenal u23s’ makeshift defence struggled in defeat to Derby on Friday night, but Folarin Balogun continued to shine with a hat-trick.
The Arsenal u23s were missing quite a few players at the back against Derby County, with wing-backs Joel Lopez and Zak Swanson unavailable, and first-choice centre-backs Omar Rekik and Zane Monlouis also out.
To make matters worse, Brooke Norton-Cuffy was suspended, so Arsenal’s usually plentiful right-wing-back options were down to one – Ryan Alebiosu.
Due to the absences at centre-back, Alebiosu didn’t even play at wing-back, instead filling in as a right-centre-back. Midfielder James Olayinka played at right-wing-back, and winger Kido Taylor-Hart played at left-wing-back.
Mazeed Ogungbo was the sole member of the usual back five to play in his normal role, left-centre-back.
It was a similar story in goal, with Karl Hein and Arthur Okonkwo unavailable and Ovie Ejeheri filling in as a result.
The makeshift Arsenal defence showed their flaws early on, as Louis Sibley gave Derby a lead after just three minutes. But Folarin Balogun gave the Gunners some hope that they could overcome their defensive issues to win anyway.
Initially, Balogun had the ball in the net from a James Olayinka assist after rounding the goalkeeper, but the assistant ruled it out for ‘offside’. That was very clearly the wrong decision, Balogun was easily on and robbed of a goal.
Balogun had his first goal of the night moments later, as Olayinka won the ball in midfield, quickly found Omari Hutchinson, who played it on to Mika Biereth, who slid a pass into Balogun’s path. It wasn’t an easy finish, but Balogun took it confidently.
Arsenal then briefly took the lead, as a mix-up at the back presented Balogun with an easy finish from close range for 2-1.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last, with Ryan Alebiosu forced to turn the ball into his own net from a dangerous cross for 2-2.
In the second half, things went from bad to horrific, as Arsenal conceded three goals in seven minutes to essentially surrender the match completely.
The best you can say is that at least things didn’t get any worse after that. Instead, Balogun scored his best goal of the night to bring it back to 5-3.
Set up by Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand, Balogun twisted and turned before curling a shot perfectly into the top corner.
It wasn’t enough to get Arsenal a result, but it was another individual show of ability from the u23 striker.
It’s pretty clear that this defence just wasn’t up to the task on the night. Kevin Betsy would be better off turning to some of the Arsenal u18s than continuing to play wingers and midfielders in wing-back roles and full-backs in the centre-back positions.
At the other end, the team continue to impress, with Balogun obviously the star but more goal contributions for Biereth and Salah-Eddine as well.
They’re just not going to win many games when they concede five.
It doesn’t even need to be said that Balogun has to be playing senior football in the second half of the season, after he made it 14 goals for the campaign on Friday. Everyone knows that by now, Arsenal just need to get working on it.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Derby
Ejeheri, Alebiosu, Foran, Ogungbo, Olayinka, S. Oulad M’hand, Patino, Taylor-Hart, Hutchinson, Biereth, Balogun
Hillson, Jeffcott (for Taylor-Hart, 63), Akinola (for Alebiosu, 63), Butler-Oyedeji, Ideho
The Arsenal u23s play next on December 6th, in their Premier League 2 match away to Everton.
But before that, the u21s (the same team in all but name) face Ipswich Town away in the first EFL Trophy knockout round on Wednesday, December 1st at 19:45 GMT.
Alexandre Lacazette could open door for Folarin Balogun
Alexandre Lacazette says his agents are starting to look around, as he prepares to make a decision on his future in January.
As most Arsenal fans will be aware by now, Alexandre Lacazette is starting to run down his contract with the club.
As things stand, Lacazette is about to enter the final six months of his contract, meaning foreign clubs can talk to him in January about a pre-contract agreement for a free transfer in the summer.
Speaking to French outlet Telefoot ahead of the weekend, Lacazette didn’t deny that his camp will be considering their options in January.
“Obviously, my agents are starting to look to the right, to the left. But not until January,” Lacazette said.
“And yes, after we will see what is on offer, if the challenges are interesting, if there are great projects, if they count on me…
“So there are still a lot of questions, I prefer to wait until January to position myself.”
It probably makes sense for Lacazette to put off a decision until January. He’ll want to see if he keeps his place in the Arsenal starting lineup, if Arsenal make him a contract offer, and if Arsenal are linked with a replacement signing.
David Ornstein previously reported that the door isn’t closed to an Alexandre Lacazette contract extension with Arsenal.
But rather strangely, Mikel Arteta then told a press conference they wouldn’t be dealing with Lacazette’s contract situation until the end of the season. By then, it may well be much too late.
For Lacazette, he’ll want clarity on his future in the January window, not least to keep any small chances of featuring in the French World Cup squad alive.
Lacazette admits he’s not holding out a huge amount of hope for a call-up.
“When I was in the group before the previous World Cup, I was not integrated,” Lacazette added.
“There I was not called at all so it’s hard to really believe I will participate, that I will be in the World Cup group (in 2022).
“I will be a supporter of Les Bleus as I have been in previous competitions.”