Premier League 2
Arsenal 4 (Saka 8, Ballard 31, Nketiah 42, 63) Chelsea 5 (Anjorin 14, Redan 15, Grant 18, Gallagher 62, Gilmour 83)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Eddie Nketiah hit a brace but Arsenal U23s saw their winless run extend to three games as they were beaten 5-4 by Chelsea in an enthralling encounter.
Arsenal showed some encouraging signs in attack at times, with Bukayo Saka, who also got on the scoresheet, particularly impressive.
However, they were vulnerable defensively and goalkeeper Deyan Iliev made several avoidable errors as Chelsea came away with a deserved victory.
Julio Pleguezuelo, who made his first-team debut in midweek, started at right-back, with Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah also called upon.
Subs: Coyle (for John-Jules, 77), Olayinka (for Gilmour, 88), Zelalem (for Burton, 90). Not used: Okonkwo, Bola
It was Chelsea who started the brightest as they put Arsenal under a considerable amount of pressure, but the young Gunners managed to compose themselves and eventually took the lead on the counter-attack in the eighth minute when the alert Saka slotted home.
Nketiah had an opportunity to make it 2-0 shortly afterwards but shot over and then Chelsea took control of proceedings.
Firstly the visitors levelled when Tino Anjorin capitalised upon Iliev’s error, and then just a minute later Daishawn Redan’s header saw Chelsea go in front.
Then it was 3-1, with Arsenal left stunned as another header, this time from Josh Grant, sailed past Iliev.
Arsenal, understandably, were a little bewildered in the direct aftermath of that four minute spell, but eventually they started to cause problems for the Chelsea defence.
Joe Willock had an effort cleared off the line and then, following a corner, Robbie Burton did well to locate Daniel Ballard, who headed in for 3-2.
Arsenal had chances to get level, with Nketiah and Willock both coming close.
However, they were fortunate that Zech Medley wasn’t punished for dwelling on the ball, with Iliev reacting well to save.
Arsenal did eventually pull level courtesy of Nketiah, who finished adroitly from close range after Saka’s impressive build-up play.
The game continued to be incident-packed in the second half, with Chelsea taking charge again.
Callum Hudson-Odoi was causing problems for Arsenal as he hit the post with one effort and then forced a save from Iliev.
Another Chelsea goal seemed likely and it arrived when Conor Gallagher sent an excellent free-kick beyond Iliev’s reach.
Arsenal refused to give up, though, with Nketiah, incredibly, then making it 4-4 as he benefitted from a Chelsea error.
Chelsea pressurised Arsenal again and then somewhat belatedly, Freddie Ljungberg turned to his bench, introducing Trae Coyle in place of Tyreece John-Jules.
It was Chelsea who would score the game’s decisive goal, however, as Billy Gilmour’s sweeping effort went past Iliev.
James Olayinka and Gedion Zelalem came on and Willock shot wide but as JoJo once sang it was too little too late, with Chelsea taking all three points on this occasion.
Saka impressed along with Nketiah, but Arsenal’s team still lacks balance under Ljungberg’s high-risk strategy.
Arsenal are attempting to play in a manner similar to Unai Emery’s first-team – playing the ball out from the back, pressurising the opposition and using a variety of passes.
Some of the youngsters are evidently still adapting to this style of play, including goalkeeper Iliev, and until this is addressed they will continue to concede goals with regularity.