Premier League 2
Chelsea 1 Arsenal 3 (Nketiah 8, 29, Jenkinson 44)
By Jeorge Bird @Stamford Bridge
Eddie Nketiah was the star of the show as Arsenal U23s secured a 3-1 victory away to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their final away fixture of the season.
Nketiah, who has flitted between the first-team squad and the second-string all season, put Arsenal ahead in the eighth minute before doubling his tally just before the half hour mark with a superb strike.
The prolific striker wasn’t finished there, however, as he proceeded to set up Carl Jenkinson, who scored Arsenal’s third goal.
Chelsea, to their credit, improved significantly after the interval and managed to reduce the deficit through Daishawn Redan.
Arsenal managed to hold on for victory, though, with Arthur Okonkwo again impressing in goal behind a well-organised defence.
Coach Freddie Ljungberg made two alterations to his team, with Jenkinson and Nketiah replacing Cohen Bramall and Joe Willock.
Schoolboy goalkeeper Hubert Graczyk made the bench with Tom Smith and James Hillson away at the Dallas Cup.
Ljungberg went for a five-at-the-back formation, with Xavier Amaechi, intriguingly, deployed in a more central position than usual.
Subs: Bramall (for Jenkinson, 62), John-Jules (for Amaechi, 78), Thompson (for Saka, 83). Not used: Graczyk, Omole.
It took some time for the game to spring into life, but Arsenal showed some encouraging signs early on and played the ball out from the back effectively.
The young Gunners proceeded to take the lead in the ninth minute, with Nketiah’s sharp finish getting the better of Chelsea goalkeeper Karlo Ziger.
Despite taking the lead Arsenal knew that there was still much hard work for them to do in order to prevail in this game, and they were frequently called into action defensively, with Jordi Osei-Tutu, who started at left wing-back, making some excellent interceptions.
Amaechi saw a free-kick headed away before Zech Medley, playing against his former club, was booked for a late challenge.
Arsenal remained largely in control and they made it 2-0 in the 29th minute, with Nketiah on target again.
On this occasion Nketiah managed to find the net from a very difficult angle as he proved that, despite not playing regularly for the U23s this season, he remains extremely potent at this level.
Okonkwo had kept two clean sheets in his first two games at this level and was determined to keep another, with the Hale End product making a sharp save.
He was, though, nearly caught out as he stumbled following a backpass, but eventually managed to clear the danger.
Having survived that scare, Arsenal went on to make it 3-0 before the break and Jenkinson, rather surprisingly, was the scorer.
Amaechi deserved much credit for winning the ball in midfield and locating Nketiah, who had drifted out to the right flank.
Nketiah’s cross was perfectly timed and Jenkinson was in the right place to extend Arsenal’s lead.
Arsenal went into the break well in the ascendancy and it seemed likely that they would face a backlash from Chelsea in the second half.
That it is exactly what transpired, with the Blues emerging with renewed vigour as they sought to somehow force their way back into the game.
Chelsea had numerous efforts, but Arsenal’s defence, well marshalled by the likes of Ben Sheaf and Daniel Ballard, managed to stand firm.
Arsenal were now largely playing on the counter-attack, and Saka saw a shot parried.
The majority of the action was occurring at the end of the pitch, and Chelsea spurned an inviting opportunity to score before Okonkwo made an excellent save.
Chelsea then hit the woodwork and then, after 263 minutes of U23 football without conceding, Okonkwo was finally beaten when Redan scored.
Substitutes Dominic Thompson and Tyreece John-Jules had chances to restore Arsenal’s three-goal cushion, but this game had effectively been won in the first 45 minutes.
Although they weren’t quite as fluent in the second half, Arsenal still deserved their victory and Ljungberg will have been impressed with how his side defended as a unit.
The young Gunners lacked a little creativity at times, perhaps owing to the absence of Willock, but with a player as clinical as Nketiah in the side they always had a good chance of securing all three points.
It will be intriguing to see what next season has in store for Nketiah, as he surely has to be playing first-team football on a regular basis whether at Arsenal or out on loan, but this was the latest example of just how prolific he can be at youth level.