Report – Frustration as Arsenal U23s are thrashed 4-0 by Blackburn

Premier League 2

Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 4 (Lyons 1, 47, Nuttall (pen) 72, 89)

By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park, Borehamwood


Arsenal U23s saw their woeful recent form continue as they were thrashed 4-0 by Blackburn Rovers at Meadow Park, with Freddie Ljungberg’s side having now gone six league games without a victory.

The bare facts don’t make for good reading for the young Gunners – last season’s champions are languishing in eighth place in the Premier League 2 table having conceded 30 goals already this campaign.

Tonight they never really got going and mustered just one meaningful effort when Tyreece John-Jules, who was starved of service up front for much of the evening, came close to scoring.

Ljungberg’s team were woeful at the back and conceded in the first minute when Bradley Lyons found the net, with the same player also scoring in the early stages o fthe second half.

Joe Nuttall also hit a brace for an impressive Blackburn side, with this game suggesting that the possibility of Arsenal being relegated to the second tier of second string football cannot be discounted.

There were some mitigating factors, not least the absence of three key players in Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka, who are likely to train with the first-team tomorrow ahead of the Carabao Cup clash against Tottenham Hotspur.

Zech Medley and Charlie Gilmour, who featured in the Europa League last week, both started, as did Ben Sheaf, who continued his recovery from injury. James Olayinka filled in at right-back in the absence of the suspended Jordi Osei-Tutu and Xavier Amaechi made the bench after returning from a spell on the sidelines.





John Jules

Subs: Amaechi (for Zelalem, 64), M. Smith (for Sheaf, 72), Thompson (for Olayinka, 83). Not used: Hein, Olowu. 

Arsenal got off to the worst possible start as Blackburn robbed them of possession and proceeded to open the scoring in the first minute, with Lyons sending the ball beyond the reach of Deyan Iliev.

Ljungberg’s team were incredibly frustrated and they almost conceded a second shortly afterwards following a teasing cross.

Blackburn were adopting a physical approach, which some Arsenal players took exception to, but it quickly became apparent that the visitors were the stronger side in every sense.

Arsenal managed a rare attempt on goal when John-Jules had a shot saved following a neat turn.

Sheaf then shot over from a free-kick and John-Jules should have done better after a slick team move involving Gilmour.

However, despite that brief spell of improvement, Arsenal ended the half on the back foot and Iliev had to be alert to make two excellent stops to prevent Blackburn from adding to their lead.

Blackburn did make it 2-0 just after the break and Lyons was the scorer again with a brilliant finish after capitalising on a mistake from Olayinka, who struggled as he filled in at right-back.

It could have got even worse for Arsenal following a mistake from Medley but Blackburn shot over.

Amaechi, making his first appearance since August, then entered the fray in place of Gedion Zelalem, who is still working his way back to full sharpness after injury.

Arsenal had hoped that the introduction of Amaechi would help them get back into the game, but Blackburn had other ideas and Nuttall made it 3-0 from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute.

Ljungberg made two more changes as Matt Smith and Dominic Thompson came on but Arsenal would concede another as Nuttall struck again following a precise cross.

Arsenal did have a chance to get a consolation goal in the closing stages but Gilmour headed over, rather summing up a hugely frustrating night for Ljungberg’s team.

The first half of the season certainly hasn’t gone to plan for Arsenal but the important aspect, of course, is that players, such as Emile Smith Rowe, Willock, Saka and Medley have been involved with the first-team.

Concerningly, however, the group of players beyond them doesn’t seem especially promising. Iliev is error prone, while Cohen Bramall will surely now not make the grade and Tolaji Bola still looks out of place defensively.

Amaechi’s return should give Arsenal hope that matters will improve and the introduction of some of the members of the U18 squad, like Sam Greenwood and Folarin Balogun, could make the team more effective.

It could, though, be something of a struggle for the U23s in the remainder of the campaign.


  1. I don’t want to be too harsh either, but isn’t it time for Ljungberg to look for a position in construction, insurance, or whatever outside football? Being trashed at “home turf” by one of the weakest team in the division is hugely disappointing.
    I wonder, how many of Pleggy, Ballard, Wilock, Smith-Rowe, Saka and Nketiah will play against a strong Tottenham side. Because sacrificing the U23 game (or even the campaign) for players sitting on the bench – or not even making the bench but merely watching the game – seems hardly professional. The Checkatrade Trophy competition was already sacrificed by playing a week team, which was a shame…

    1. Are you talking about the Youth Cup game against Spurs? If so, I know that Willock, Smith-Rowe and Nketiah are not eligible – too old.

      1. Smith-Rowe was not too old for the Youth Cup game, but I wasn’t referring to that.
        I was listening to Mertesacker’s interview on the Checkatrade Trophy stating that it is a good opportunity for our players to try themselves not only against their own age group (U23 Premiere League 2), but against adult, combative opponents. (I’m not quoting literally, but he said something similar about playing against grown-ups, and Ljungberg also agreed this being a valuable experience.)
        In this competition we played really well in the first game, and in spite of being hammered in the 2nd round we managed to qualify with a narrow win in the last round. Against Portsmouth (in the first elimination round) I strongly believe that Ljungberg should have played Willock, Smith-Rowe, Nketiah and Pleguezuelo (if not injured), Maitland-Niles, maybe even Guendouzi… Not for the sake of making me pride, but because those players have the most chance to break into the first team (at some point), so they desperately need the opportunity to play against adults, probably more than Osei-Tutu, Gilmore, Omole, Olayinka, Coyle, Tormey and even John-Jules.
        I honestly believed that our strongest u21 team (back than it included Reiss Nelson) could go all the way, winning the trophy, making the supporters proud and gaining a lot of experience. But now: no trophy, minimal experience gained, but at least Ljungberg could rotate his side. However it would only make sense if we weren’t go on losing every bloody games since than, so I’m pretty disappointed. And not because of bad luck – which could happen to anyone – but in my honest (yet not professional) opinion many of those decisions were pretty dumb.

      2. Sorry LSOE, I probably didn’t response to your question.
        I though – in line with Jeorge’s perception – that Jlungberg didn’t play “Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka, [because they] are likely to train with the first-team tomorrow ahead of the Carabao Cup clash against Tottenham Hotspur”. Well, Eddie did in fact play, but the others were not even in the squad of 18, so their exclusion against Blackburn was a complete waste of opportunity, not to mention my nerves.

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