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.
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.