U21 Premier League- Division 2
Arsenal 3 (Reine-Adelaide (6, 62), Malen (58)) Blackburn Rovers 2 (Mansell (66, 77))
Arsenal U21s returned to winning ways today as they beat Blackburn Rovers 3-2 at London Colney in their first fixture of 2016, with Jeff Reine-Adelaide making a strong case for first-team involvement by scoring a brace.
The Frenchman was impressive throughout his time on the field, as was young striker Donyell Malen, who continued his fine form by scoring his third goal at this level.
Arsenal looked to be cruising to victory after establishing a three goal lead, but a brace from Blackburn’s Lewis Mansell made the scoreline 3-2 and ensured a frantic finale.
However, Arsenal managed to prevail, with their promotion challenge now back on track. Steve Gatting’s side are now only behind Division 2 leaders Derby County on goal difference.
As far as Reine-Adelaide is concerned, the winger has certainly done his chances no harm at all in terms of potentially making his competitive debut for the first-team in Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Sunderland.
Club captain Mikel Arteta, who is building up his fitness after injury, started at the base of the midfield alongside Alex Iwobi and played 45 minutes.
There were also alterations in both full-back positions, with Ben Sheaf and Tyrell Robinson both coming into the side, although Matt Macey, Glen Kamara and Kaylen Hinds weren’t included in the squad.
Reine Adelaide-Crowley-C. Willock
Subs: Bennacer (for Arteta, 46), Moore (for Reine-Adelaide, 71), Mavididi (for Iwobi, 79).
Not used: Keto, M. Bola.
Arsenal started very brightly, with Iwobi, who has been heavily involved with the first-team recently, playing a neat through ball into the path of Chris Willock, who was unable to find a team-mate with his cross.
Arsenal’s next attack resulted in the opening goal of the game, with Reine-Adelaide doing well to win possession before finishing calmly to open his account at this level.
It could have been 2-0 shortly afterwards, with captain Julio Pleguezuelo’s header rattling the post.
Blackburn then had their first chance of the game, with defender Scott Wharton heading wide.
Arsenal continued to dominate, however, with Reine-Adelaide playing an intelligent pass into the path of Arteta, who drove forwards and forced Blackburn goalkeeper Ryan Crump into making a good save.
Iwobi was next to try his luck, with the Nigeria international shooting wide following an intricate passing move.
However, Blackburn then provided Arsenal with a warning when Dean Rittenberg’s effort cannoned off the post at the other end.
Arsenal looked to add to their tally before the break, with Malen, who was preferred to Stephy Mavididi up front, doing well to work space for himself in the area only for his shot to be kept out by Crump.
Malen was denied again by Crump, with Arsenal having to be content with a one goal lead at half-time.
Ismael Bennacer replaced Arteta at half-time in a pre-scheduled change, but the alteration didn’t disrupt Arsenal’s cohesion as they started the second period in the ascendancy.
Firstly Tyrell Robinson, galloping forwards from left-back, saw his cross gathered, with Crowley later having a shot blocked.
Malen then drifted infield in an attempt to create an opening, but he was unable to locate a team-mate in the penalty area.
It wasn’t long until it was 2-0, however, with Malen on hand to finish from close range after Reine-Adelaide’s initial effort was parried.
At just 16 years of age, Malen has established himself as an important player for Arsenal’s U21 side and seems an incredibly bright prospect for the future.
That goal provided Arsenal with an injection of confidence, and they made it 3-0 almost instantly with Reine-Adelaide on the scoresheet again after he was found by Malen.
Just when it seemed as if the outcome of the game was beyond doubt, Blackburn, with their first notable attack of the second half, pulled a goal back courtesy of Lewis Mansell, who scored after Ryan Huddart managed to keep out his first attempt.
That setback didn’t quell Arsenal’s attacking momentum, though, with Willock weaving his way into the penalty area before shooting wide as the young Gunners went in search of a fourth goal.
Reine-Adelaide, perhaps with the Sunderland game in mind, was then withdrawn, with Tafari Moore being given a run-out.
Arsenal appeared to lose concentration in the closing stages, however, with Mansell bursting forwards and finding the net again to make it 3-2.
Arsenal had to hold on in the dying embers of the game, with Krystian Bielik making a well-timed challenge, but, despite there being four minutes of added time, the young Gunners ended up taking all three points from this encounter.