Premier League 2
Derby County 2 (Martin 14, Babos 60) Arsenal 2 (Burton 70, Balogun 79)
Arsenal U23s preserved their unbeaten start to the league season as they came from behind to draw 2-2 away to Derby County at Pride Park tonight, but it may have come at a cost, with Emile Smith Rowe having to be taken off after suffering an injury in the second half.
Smith Rowe, who was promoted to the first-team squad this summer, has gradually been building up his fitness for the U23s and U21s having suffered an injury last season.
However, it now appears that the 19-year-old could be set for another spell on the sidelines after he had to be replaced by Miguel Azeez, who made his competitive debut for the U23s.
The first half was rather uneventful, but Derby went into the break in the ascendancy courtesy of a superbly-struck free-kick from Chris Martin, and proceeded to score a second goal after the restart as Alexander Babos got the better of Karl Hein.
Arsenal had shown signs of tiredness but demonstrated terrific spirit to reduce the deficit, with captain Robbie Burton applying the finishing touch to a brilliant passing move.
The prolific Folarin Balogun, on as a substitute, then pulled Arsenal level, but the jubilation felt in coming from behind was dented by the injury sustained by Smith Rowe.
Steve Bould made five changes from the Leasing.com Trophy clash against Northampton Town, with Karl Hein, Tobi Omole, Mazeed Ogungbo (making his debut), Burton and Tyreece John-Jules coming for Matt Macey, Zak Swanson, Tolaji Bola, James Olayinka and Balogun.
There was a young bench for Arsenal, with Matthew Dennis, Alfie Matthews and Azeez all being called up.
Subs: Balogun (for Tormey, 64), Azeez (for Smith Rowe, 73), Dennis (for Olowu, 80). Not used: Hillson, Matthews.
It was a quiet start to the game, with both sides having long periods of possession without being able to create any clear cut chances.
Burton eventually tried his luck after being teed up by John-Jules, but the Wales youth international sent his effort well over the target.
Jayden Mitchell-Lawson, who has caught the eye against Arsenal at youth level in the past, then lashed a shot wide for Derby before Trae Coyle and Smith Rowe were unable to find the net at the other end.
Smith Rowe, who was growing in influence, then had an effort blocked, but Derby were awarded a free-kick just before half-time, with Burton handling the ball.
The hosts took full advantage as Martin sent his effort beyond the reach of Hein to open the scoring.
Arsenal had appeared rather sluggish in the first half, perhaps as a consequence of having played many games recently.
The match started to open up in the second period, with Jahmal Hector-Ingram having a chance, but his effort probably wasn’t one he would post about on Instagram after the game.
Coyle sent a well-struck effort just over, but Derby were becoming increasingly confident, and, after Babos hit the side-netting with one effort, he then made it 2-0 with a precise finish following an excellent pass from Max Bird.
Arsenal introduced the prolific Balogun in place of Tormey as they went in search of goals, and Bould’s side immediately carried a greater attacking threat.
Smith Rowe embarked upon a trademark burst forwards and rattled the post with a shot, and then Burton scored after a cleverly crafted goal which encompassed him exchanging passes with both John-Jules and Balogun before scoring.
Then came the aforementioned moment involving Smith Rowe, who had to be replaced by Azeez.
Martin hit the crossbar for Derby, but Arsenal were undeterred and pulled level with Balogun capitalising upon a mistake from the experienced forward.
Dennis came on for Joseph Olowu, with Arsenal continuing to push forwards with regularity, and Balogun produced a great run before locating Jordan McEneff, whose effort was cut out.
With six minutes of stoppage time being played, the young Gunners felt they could still win the game. Omole shot over and then Ogungbo sent in an excellent cross which went without a recipient.
Derby couldn’t be discounted, though, and Hein made an excellent stop to thwart Mitchell-Lawson in the closing stages.
The second half was an enthralling contest, and Arsenal’s youngsters will have learnt much from the game, but it is Smith Rowe’s latest injury that will be the major talking point.