Premier League 2
Liverpool 1 (Gallacher 63) Arsenal 1 (Balogun 90)
If Arsenal U23s are crowned Premier League 2 champions at the conclusion of the campaign then substitute Folarin Balogun’s dramatic intervention against Liverpool tonight will be looked back upon as a key moment.
Arsenal, missing several of their most important players, looked to be heading for defeat as they trailed to Tony Gallacher’s effort but Balogun, not long after entering the fray, pounced to score his first competitive goal at this level and secure a potentially priceless point for Steve Gatting’s side.
The young Gunners’ situation is not entirely under control, but they are now level with league leaders Leicester City, whom they trail on goal difference. Liverpool and Swansea City, who Arsenal are up against next, are just two points behind and it promises to be an enthralling end to the season.
To say that Arsenal were depleted would be an understatement. They were without Reiss Nelson, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah, as well as goalkeepers Matt Macey and Deyan Iliev, who are needed for first-team training.
Defender Danny Ballard missed out through injury, with Arsenal switching to a back three as Vontae Daley-Campbell was drafted in at right wing-back to start his first game at this level.
There was something of a surprise selection in goal, with Joao Virginia chosen to start at the expense of the more experienced Hugo Keto.
Daley Campbell-Dasilva-Gilmour- T. Bola
Subs: Fortune (for Daley-Campbell, 70), Balogun (for Amaechi, 90). Not used: Keto, Burton, Coyle.
Vlad Dragomir, one of the more experienced players in this Arsenal side, was a threat in the early stages, with the Romanian having an effort blocked by the alert Gallacher.
It was Liverpool, though, who created the standout opening of the first half, with Neco Williams finding Yan Dhanda, but the latter’s effort went just over.
Tyreece John-Jules had a header saved but Arsenal still had to be alert at the other end, with Virginia reacting well to keep out Dhanda’s latest attempt.
Arsenal ended the half strongly and came close to taking the lead but a powerful strike from the impressive Xavier Amaechi was thwarted by Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
Dhanda was at the hub of much of what was good about Liverpool’s play and early in the second half the creative talent did well to shake off the attentions of Jordi Osei-Tutu, but his subsequent shot lacked conviction.
Soon, however, Liverpool did take the lead, and Dhanda played a part in proceedings as he threaded the ball through to Gallacher, who sent the ball beyond the reach of Virginia.
Arsenal threw on Yassin Fortune as they went in search of an equaliser and they almost pulled level through Josh Dasilva’s strike.
There was a scare for Arsenal as Liverpool almost added to their lead in the closing moments, with the young Gunners having to react quickly to scramble the ball to safety when Toni Gomes went for goal.
Arsenal then sent on Balogun in place of Amaechi and it initially seemed as if the change had been made too late for the striker to have any sort of impact.
There was just enough time, though, for Balogun to react well and finish after Osei-Tutu’s effort was blocked, and his late goal could well have significant consequences as far as the title is concerned.