The Arsenal u23s came from behind again to pick up a key win over Southampton in their Premier League Cup campaign on Sunday.
The Arsenal u23s had struggled in their opening three games of the Premier League Cup, with all three fixtures taking place during international breaks when many of the young Gunners were off with their countries.
They had two draws and one defeat from those games, leaving them needing at least a couple of wins in the final three matches to have a good shot at progressing to the knockout stages.
There were a couple of absences this weekend as well, after the likes of Charlie Patino, Brooke Norton-Cuffy, and Omari Hutchinson joined up with the u18s for the FA Youth Cup match on Friday.
But for the most part, Kevin Betsy had a stronger side available, with Folarin Balogun making his first appearance in the competition.
Southampton had a lot of the early chances, going close in the third minute before Caleb Watts gave them the lead with a left-footed shot from just outside in the box in the fifth.
Arsenal then got back into the game midway through the half through a piece of individual brilliance.
Folarin Balogun and Joel Ideho closed down the Southampton defence, with Ideho winning the ball before chipping the goalkeeper from about 35 yards out.
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) December 13, 2021
Southampton continued to dominate the first-half chances after that, with Kazeem Olaigbe shooting wide and Thierry Small forcing a good save from Ovie Ejeheri.
Joel Lopez then had to make a block on the line to prevent a certain Ramello Mitchell goal.
Eventually, the pressure told, as Ideho caught a Southampton man in the corner of the box for a penalty. Olaigbe converted the kick to deal Arsenal a big blow before the break.
The game remained tight after the break, and Kevin Betsy introduced Mika Biereth as a substitute to try and turn things around in the final half-hour.
Still, Arsenal were limited to just a couple of half-chances until the final 15 minutes of the match.
The young Gunners have been the comeback kings lately, and Balogun sparked yet more late drama with a 76th-minute equaliser.
After linking up with Joel Lopez on the left-hand side, Balogun pounced on a loose ball and raced into the area before finishing confidently at the near post.
A few minutes later, Arsenal were level. Again, the chance began with Ideho winning the ball in the final third, before playing it into Biereth.
Biereth feigned to turn one way, before spinning the other, escaping from the defender and applying another clinical finish.
The Arsenal onslaught continued in the final 10 minutes, with Balogun forcing a great save, Salah-Eddine cutting inside to bring forth another stop from the goalkeeper, and Olayinka making it a hat-trick of saves after a great skill from Balogun.
Despite all the late chances, that was the end of the goals, and the match finished 3-2 to Arsenal.
West Brom remain the runaway leaders of Arsenal’s Premier League Cup group, on nine points after three games. Arsenal sit in second (which is also a qualification spot for the knockout stages) on five points after four games.
But it’s hard to assess the group at this stage, with Bournemouth and Southampton having played two and three games respectively.
We won’t have a clear picture of the situation until those extra matches are played. Ideally, Southampton and Bournemouth will draw on December 22nd to leave them both trailing behind.
On an individual note, Joel Ideho hasn’t played much this season, only making six starts in all competitions, but he has two goals and two assists in those limited minutes.
All he can do is to keep taking his chances when they come and avoid further errors like Sunday’s penalty.
It’s obviously encouraging that Folarin Balogun and Mika Biereth continue to score and assist so many goals. Balogun is now up to 20 goal contributions for the season, whilst Biereth is on 13.
They both remain vital members of the side, who are perhaps a little over-reliant on their goals.
It was also nice to see Bradley Ibrahim making a late substitute appearance, for his competitive u23 debut.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Southampton
Ejeheri, Swanson, Rekik, Ogungbo, Lopez, Taylor-Hart, S. Oulad M’hand, Olayinka, Ideho, Butler-Oyedeji, Balogun
Graczyk, Ibrahim (for Ideho, 86), Sagoe Jr (for Taylor-Hart, 86), Biereth (for Butler-Oyedeji, 58)
Arsenal were supposed to face Tottenham Hotspur in the u23 North London derby on Friday at 19:00 GMT. That now seems unlikely, with reports of a widespread outbreak among the visitor’s u23 side.
If that game doesn’t happen, Arsenal might not play another u23 fixture this year. The derby was the final scheduled game before the academy winter break.
That would mean waiting until January 7th for our next Arsenal u23 fixture, away to Brighton. But that game may also be moved for the EFL Trophy clash with Chelsea the same week, so everything is up in the air.
Let’s see what happens with the Spurs match first.