Premier League 2
Chelsea 1 (Wakefield) Arsenal 2 (Nelson, Mavididi)
By Jeorge Bird @ Stamford Bridge
Arsenal U23s returned to winning ways in impressive fashion tonight as they overcame their Chelsea counterparts with a 2-1 victory in a hard-fought encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Stephy Mavididi was the hero, with the forward finishing well in the closing stages of the game to secure what is just Arsenal’s second win of the season as a much-changed side responded to the humiliating 5-0 defeat to Everton.
Arsenal played some slick passes at times and one such move culminated in the lively Reiss Nelson opening the scoring. The England youth international spurned an inviting opportunity to make it 2-0 in the second-half and Arsenal were punished for their lack of ruthlessness, with Chelsea substitute Charlie Wakefield equalising.
However, Mavididi, who was on the bench for the first-team against Nottingham Forest this week, proceeded to score the decisive goal of the game.
Coach Steve Gatting was able to name a significantly stronger line-up than the one he fielded against Everton on Monday, with the likes of Chris Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Gedion Zelalem all returning to the fray. Ben Sheaf, meanwhile, filled in at centre-back with Kristopher Da Graca dropping to the bench.
Subs: Dragomir (for Bennacer). Not used: DaSilva, Nketiah, Da Graca, Keto.
Arsenal started very brightly, with the lively Nelson coming close to scoring early on.
However, Chelsea soon provided an indication of their attacking intent, with Matt Macey having to be alert to gather the ball from a cross before Krystian Bielik did well to cut out the danger shortly afterwards.
Arsenal’s defending was woeful against Everton but they were considerably more resilient here and that provided the foundation for them to push forwards and attack when the opportunity arose.
On one such occasion they managed to take the lead. Nelson was typically operating on the right flank but at the culmination of one free-flowing passing move he ended up on the left wing and finished well to open the scoring.
Arsenal were buoyed by that goal and pushed forwards in search of a second before the break, with Zelalem and Maitland-Niles both having attempts saved.
The young Gunners could be pleased with their first-half performance, with Bielik and Sheaf having defended particularly well, lending credence to claims that Arsenal’s defence is more reliable without the error prone Da Graca.
Arsenal started the second period well with Nelson, who was at the hub of much of what was good about his side’s play, sending a free-kick over the crossbar.
Chelsea’s threat couldn’t be dismissed, however, with the Blues striking the post before a dangerous cross flashed across the face of Macey’s goal.
Arsenal had to be resilient at the back, but they still managed to create a notable opportunity when Willock, operating in the number ten position, played an inch-perfect pass into the path of Nelson, but the latter’s effort lacked conviction.
Chelsea were let off the hook and they seemed determined to make Arsenal pay for spurning that chance. Macey tried his utmost to keep the Blues at bay and he made a spectacular save to temporarily preserve Arsenal’s lead, but he was powerless to prevent Wakefield from equalising following a rapid Chelsea break downfield.
Macey then had to make several important stops to prevent the hosts from taking the lead as Chelsea started to dominate proceedings.
Arsenal remained unflustered, however, with Bielik continuing to make clearance after clearance.
Chelsea continued to pressurise Arsenal but suddenly the young Gunners found a new lease of life, with Maitland-Niles helping to drive the team forwards.
It was Mavididi, though, who was the match-winner to cap off a memorable week for him and a rather eventful five days for the academy as a whole, which, having started so miserably with that loss to Everton, have ended in euphoria.