U21 Premier League
Blackburn Rovers 0 Arsenal 0
A much-changed Arsenal U21 team were held to a goalless draw by their Blackburn Rovers counterparts this evening, with both sides coming close to scoring in a competitive encounter.
Perhaps with Friday’s game against Aston Villa in mind, coach Steve Gatting made six changes to the team that started the defeat to Derby County last time out, with Matt Macey, Renny Smith, Semi Ajayi, Marc Bola, Jack Jebb and Stephy Mavididi all coming into the side, the latter making his first start at this level.
Earlier in the campaign Theo Walcott made his Arsenal return in the corresponding fixture, but this was a rather more low-key affair, with Arsenal’s inconsistent form at this level continuing.
Subs: Lipman (for Jebb, 72), Robinson (for Zelalem, 89). Not used: Iliev, Dobson, Sheaf.
Dan Crowley and Krystian Bielik were amongst the players who didn’t feature, but the young Gunners still managed to create plenty of chances in their absence.
Arsenal started brightly and very nearly opened the scoring with less than ten minutes on the clock when Ainsley Maitland-Niles saw his effort repelled by goalkeeper David Raya before Gedion Zelalem struck a post with a fierce effort.
Jebb, meanwhile, was relishing his return to the side. The midfielder spent several weeks on the sidelines after suffering an injury whilst on loan at Stevenage, but he was back to something approaching his best here as he created some inviting chances for his team-mates.
Firstly Jebb’s corner was met by Maitland-Niles, who skewed his effort over the crossbar. Jebb then played an intelligent pass into the path of Glen Kamara, but the Finnish youngster, restored to his favoured position at the base of midfield, could only shoot over.
Jebb was involved again shortly afterwards when his deflected effort fell into the path of Maitland-Niles, who shot wide. Arsenal continued to pressurise the Blackburn defence with the half-time whistle approaching, but the game remained goalless at the break after Mavididi was denied by Raya.
Blackburn saw slightly more of the ball in the second period and the hosts came close to breaking the deadlock through an ambitious strike from Dean Rittenberg.
Arsenal still managed to pose a threat at the other end, though, with Iwobi becoming increasingly involved in proceedings. The winger, who has trained frequently with the first team of late, cut inside and found Zelalem, whose shot struck the side-netting.
Iwobi then found Zelalem again but the midfielder’s luck was still out as Raya comfortably gathered his header.
Blackburn’s capabilities couldn’t be discounted, however, and the young Gunners were served a warning when Devarn Green’s effort cannoned off Macey’s far post.
The game lost much of its rhythm in the closing stages and Arsenal were unable to seize all three points despite the introduction of Austin Lipman as a substitute. The result means that Gatting’s side have won just one of their last five fixtures, something that they will seek to address when they face Villa on Friday.