The Arsenal u23s suffered a two-goal comeback to draw against Blackburn Rovers, despite a rotated side performing well in the first half.

Miguel Azeez with the Arsenal u23s (Photo via Azeez on Twitter)
Miguel Azeez with the Arsenal u23s (Photo via Azeez on Twitter)

After starting Mika Biereth, Omari Hutchinson, and Marcelo Flores together in the last Premier League 2 game against Spurs, none of the three started against Blackburn Rovers on Monday night.

Biereth appears to be out injured, there’s no word yet on the reason for Hutchinson’s absence, whilst Flores simply dropped to the bench for a game.

George Lewis came into the side, his first start of the entire season, and he was joined by Joel Ideho and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, making their fourth and second starts of the league campaign respectively.

Left-back Lino Sousa was also making his first Premier League 2 start for Arsenal, following his January transfer to the club.

Match report

England U17 head coach Kevin Betsy takes to the touchline - England U17 v Czech Republic U17, International Friendly football match, Damson Park Stadium, Solihull, UK - 19 Nov 2019. Photo: Jon Super for The FA
Arsenal u23 head coach Kevin Betsy whilst with England on 19 Nov 2019. Photo: Jon Super for The FA

You’d expect those changes might lead to some early rustiness, but the reality was almost the exact opposite, with the lesser-utilised youngsters starting with all guns blazing before seemingly tiring later in the match.

That led to a fast start, with Butler-Oyedeji looking particularly bright on the right-hand side. He and Miguel Azeez both had early shots saved, before linking up for the opening goal.

Butler-Oyedeji played a nice through ball to Azeez, who finished confidently for 1-0.

Before long, Arsenal had made it two. Butler-Oyedeji was involved again on a good counter-attack, but when an initial shot was saved, Sousa was on hand to score his first Arsenal goal.

Just as it looked as though Arsenal were heading for a comfortable night, Rovers pulled one back through Joseph Ferguson in the 35th minute.

The Gunners remained in the ascendancy for the rest of the half, with Lewis hitting the bar after more good work from Butler-Oyedeji.

Joel Ideho playing for the Arsenal u21s (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)
Joel Ideho playing for the Arsenal u21s (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)

Initially, the second half picked up where the first left off. Ideho saw a shot deflected onto the bar, Azeez missed a bit of a sitter, before Ideho hit the post with an effort that would have been completely unstoppable if it had been on target.

Yet Rovers suddenly found their feet in the match and turned it on its head. After a couple of close calls and Hubert Graczyk saves, Rovers found their equaliser in impressive fashion through Jack Vale.

Graczyk had to make a couple more strong saves just to keep the scores level, though Arsenal did rally again at the very end for a couple of chances – with the help of late substitutes Marcelo Flores and Amario Cozier-Duberry.

In the end, it finished 2-2, effectively ending any lingering hopes of a Premier League 2 title win.

Arsenal still have a game against league leaders Manchester City remaining, but even a win would leave them needing to catch up six points in the other three games.

Final thoughts

Marcelo Flores plays for the Arsenal u23s (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)
Marcelo Flores plays for the Arsenal u23s (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)

A less-than-optimal result wasn’t entirely unexpected given the rotation, though it was certainly disappointing after Arsenal had taken a 2-0 lead.

Kevin Betsy should have been more proactive with his substitutions on this occasion, waiting until the 81st minute to make his first change when Rovers’ equaliser had come eight minutes earlier.

But Nathan Butler-Oyedeji and Joel Ideho will have benefitted from the extra minutes in terms of their individual sharpness, and perhaps that’s more important.

Butler-Oyedeji has played too much of his u23 Arsenal career at centre-forward, and this was a reminder of how much more effective he is on the wings. He put in an excellent display in his natural position on the right, and he should stay there in future.

Similarly, Miguel Azeez did well playing in a similar role to the one Granit Xhaka occupies in the first team. The disappointment of his Portsmouth loan was arguably as much to do with the fact they wanted him to be a number 10 as anything else.

Hubert Graczyk has had some big games in goal for the u23s lately, and this was another one. Hopefully he can find more regular game time next season.

Arsenal u23 lineup vs Blackburn Rovers

Graczyk, Walters, Kirk, Ogungbo, Sousa, Henry-Francis, Olayinka, Azeez, Butler-Oyedeji, Ideho, Lewis


Ejeheri, Cozier-Duberry (for Butler-Oyedeji, 81), Flores (for Ideho, 81), Bandeira, Foran

What’s next?

The Arsenal u23s travel away to Crystal Palace on Saturday, March 19th at 13:00 GMT.