Arsenal’s u23 side bounced back to winning ways in impressive style at Stamford Bridge on Friday evening, with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Adi Viveash’s side.
After a forgettable 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Everton on Monday, there were wholesale changes from Steve Gatting as many of the more experienced youngsters were utilised after the first-team’s EFL Cup exertions away against Nottingham Forest.
Only three players kept their place in the starting XI, with the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Krystian Bielik featuring for the full 90 after appearances at the City Ground in midweek.
Reiss Nelson was a constant threat down the right-hand side, whilst his willingness to track back out of possession was just as impressive as his ability with the ball at his feet. After a couple of half-chances for both teams in the early exchanges, it was Nelson himself who broke the deadlock in the 24th minute with a well-taken finish, which curled past Nathan Baxter into the bottom corner.
The goal came at the perfect time from an Arsenal perspective as Chelsea were gradually beginning to find their rhythm after a generally slow start to proceedings from the hosts. Gedion Zelalem and Stephy Mavididi both had goalscoring opportunities before the half was up, but neither was able to replicate Nelson’s composed finish as Arsenal went into the interval with a slender advantage.
Chelsea’s youth sides are notorious for their effective responses to setbacks and it didn’t take long in the second-half to see why. Maitland-Niles used his expertise to good effect and was given free roam to control the midfield area, so after the break Chelsea reverted to the option which was giving them joy in the first 45: combination play down the wings.
Jacob Maddox and Charlie Wakefield came on for Chelsea to start the second-half, and the latter was effective from his introduction. Marc Bola, who wasn’t given adequate defensive support at times, was tested to his limits by the 18-year-old, who seemed to rejuvenuate a flat crowd at Stamford Bridge.
Wakefield fizzed a shot goalward and was denied by a good stop from Macey, before seeing his close-range header denied by an even better acrobatic save from the 21-year-old goalkeeper. At the other end, Baxter was forced into an important one-on-one save to deny Nelson from doubling his tally, and the lead, as Chelsea still looked vulnerable at the back.
The game was firmly an end-to-end one at this stage, when Chelsea eventually grabbed an equaliser midway through the second-half. Josimar Quintero was energetic and used his low centre of gravity to good effect as he did well to burst through midfield. The ball fell to Iké Ugbo, who saw his effort denied by another close-range save from Macey, but the resulting shot fell straight in Wakefield’s path, and he simply couldn’t miss.
With the home support now louder than ever, Chelsea’s momentum levels continued to rise in search of a potential winner with time running out. Trevoh Chalobah came close with a header, whilst Quintero created a chance out of seemingly nothing, but was unable to apply the finishing touch.
Krystian Bielik and Ben Sheaf especially were excellent at the back and rightly deserve plenty of credit for their performances, but Mavididi was ultimately rewarded for his thorough hard graft with an excellent winning goal. Zelalem’s inviting long pass across to the left teased the forward on the right and after weaving his way past a few challenges, he managed to settle himself and slot home past Baxter’s helpless dive to devastating effect.
It was an entertaining and unpredictable game between two of the league’s best sides, one where Arsenal were made to work hard for the three points but ultimately deserved them on the balance of play.