U21 Premier League- Division 2
Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 0
Arsenal U21s suffered a further setback in their promotion challenge as a much-changed side were beaten 1-0 defeat away to Blackburn Rovers tonight.
Sam Lavelle’s first-half header proved to be the difference between the two sides, with Arsenal unable to make the most of the chances they created, although one positive was that Serge Gnabry received another runout and played 77 minutes.
With Monday’s FA Youth Cup second leg encounter with Manchester City in mind, Steve Gatting gave opportunities to some members of the U18 squad. Kostas Pileas and Josh Dasilva made their first starts at this level, while Tolaji Bola and prolific forward Edward Nketiah were named on the bench.
A plethora of players were rested ahead of the City game, with Chris Willock, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Kaylen Hinds, Marc Bola, Reiss Nelson, Chiori Johnson, Kristopher Da Graca, Stephy Mavididi and Tyrell Robinson all left out of the squad.
Subs: Nketiah (for Sheaf, 74), Eyoma (for Gnabry, 77)
Not used: Keto, T. Bola, Mourgos.
Blackburn included some senior players in their side, with Danny Guthrie and Jason Lowe both featuring.
The opening exchanges were rather uneventful, with 15 minutes passing before the first incident of note, which saw Krystian Bielik make an impressive block as he closed down an effort from Anton Forrester.
Willem Tomlinson then sent a long range effort over for the visitors as the game started to open up a little, and Arsenal responded with a chance of their own when the ever lively Donyell Malen accelerated forwards, but he was unable to direct his effort on target.
Gnabry, continuing to work his way back to full fitness, then shot over as Arsenal sought to assert themselves on proceedings.
It was Blackburn, though, who would take the lead as disappointing marking from a corner allowed Lavelle to head past Ryan Huddart.
Arsenal attempted to respond, but neither Gnabry or Dan Crowley could find the net with their efforts and Blackburn went into the break in the ascendancy.
Blackburn started the second half well, with Lowe heading over before Huddart had to make an impressive save to stop the hosts from doubling their advantage.
Huddart then made another intervention, with Forrester later shooting wide as Blackburn squandered an opportunity to make matters even more difficult for Arsenal.
The young Gunners eventually crafted an opening of their own, but Malen’s attempt was saved, before Nketiah entered the fray in place of Sheaf for his first outing at this level.
The forward has been hugely impressive for the U18s and started brightly on this occasion as he turned excellently before seeing his effort blocked.
Arsenal continued to go in search of the equaliser, but Malen was hauled down in the penalty area with his protestations for a spot-kick coming to no avail.
Crowley then shot just wide, before Nketiah’s volleyed over following good work in the build-up from Dasilva, but Arsenal couldn’t find the net and Blackburn managed to hold on for all three points.
Time is running out for Arsenal to secure their place in the top tier, with just four games left for Steve Gatting’s side, who are currently third in the table, with only the top two teams being promoted.