U18 Premier League
Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 2
An Arsenal U18 side overseen for the first time by Carl Laraman, and containing several of the players he has coached at junior levels, couldn’t fend off the challenge of a comparatively experienced Blackburn Rovers side at London Colney on Saturday morning.
Laraman, who has taken over at this level after Steve Gatting was promoted to U21 duty, handed debuts to centre-back Stefan O’Connor and left-back Marc Bola, whilst Renny Smith, who came on at right-back last week, started in midfield after completing his move to the club from Chelsea. Fellow schoolboys Tafari Moore and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were also handed starts with several players rested for this evening’s U21 trip to face Manchester United. Several members of the U15 side made the bench.
subs: Hinds, Dobson, Robinson. Not used: Huddart, Thorbourne
Arsenal looked to dictate proceedings early on, with Jack Jebb, a comparatively experienced figure in midfield, receiving plenty of possession, but Blackburn took the lead when Bola’s attempted clearance fell to Dean Rittenburg, who beat Deyan Iliev in the Arsenal goal with ease.
Arsenal nearly responded instantly when Jebb found Austin Lipman, but the striker’s shot was saved before, at the other end, Blackburn missed a presentable opportunity as Arsenal’s unfamiliar back four invited them to attack. Blackburn’s advantage was doubled just after the break when Glen Kamara, usually a force of consistency, squandered possession and Modou Cham fired home to make it 2-0.
In the second half, Jebb, who was by far Arsenal’s most influential player operating in an advanced midfield role, saw a shot saved following good work on the right flank from the tricky Tarum Dawkins, before substitute Kaylen Hinds, who was lively after being introduced as a substitute also came close. Rittenburg missed a good chance for Blackburn, then Ainsley Maitland-Niles shot wide for Arsenal but claimed his shirt was being pulled by a Blackburn player as he did so.
Laraman can take heart from the fact that Arsenal delivered an improved second half performance following a difficult opening period, with Jebb and Lipman becoming increasingly influential, and several players receiving their first taste of action at this level. Arsenal, who have taken four points from their first three games of this section, face Manchester City away on Saturday.