Premier League 2
Arsenal 1 (Balogun 16) Chelsea 2 (Broja 32, Gilmour 45)
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park, Borehamwood
This will go down as Pablo Mari’s first appearance in an Arsenal shirt, but it also represented a missed opportunity for Steve Bould’s side as they suffered a second defeat in succession.
Mari and fellow first-team squad member Rob Holding both played 45 minutes, but, although Arsenal took the lead through a superb strike from Folarin Balogun, it was Chelsea who prevailed.
Deployed on the left side of central defence, Mari was impressive in the air and was also composed on the ball but was caught out on a couple of occasions.
Subs: Clarke (for Holding, 46), Medley (for Mari, 46), Ogungbo (for Omole, 79). Not used: Hillson, Azeez.
Mari won his first header comfortably but the game didn’t really spark into life until the 16th minute, when Balogun scored a superb strike that curled beyond the reach of Chelsea goalkeeper Karlo Ziger.
Balogun could have doubled his tally shortly afterwards following impressive work from Trae Coyle, but the striker’s effort lacked conviction on that occasion.
Holding then came close to scoring with a header, and Balogun had a shot saved before Tobi Omole’s penalty claim was turned down.
Despite Arsenal creating the majority of the chances up until that point, it was Chelsea who scored the game’s next goal, with Armando Broja heading in from a corner as Karl Hein failed to react properly.
Chelsea managed to turn the game on its head before the break, with Billy Gilmour scoring following another error from Hein.
As had been pre-planned, Mari and Holding were taken off at half-time, with Harry Clarke and Zech Medley taking their places.
Chelsea came close to scoring following a mistake from Zak Swanson, who captained Arsenal in the absence of Robbie Burton.
Arsenal had plenty of opportunities to pull level, with many of them falling to Sam Greenwood, who frequently drifted in-field from the right wing.
Greenwood couldn’t score, however, with Balogun and Jordan McEneff also unable to find the net.
Arsenal continued to push forward and lost Tobi Omole to injury, with Mazeed Ogungbo coming on.
Chelsea were always a threat on the counter-attack, though, and they defended diligently as they went top of the table.
For Arsenal it was a frustrating game, but there were some encouraging signs, with Coyle posing a constant threat and Balogun also showing glimpses of his quality.
Holding was largely composed but was caught out on a couple of occasions, but Hein was at fault for both goals, and, despite the potential that he possesses, it is perhaps worth taking him out of the side, at least temporarily, and bringing in James Hillson.
Omole struggled at left-back, and his withdrawal meant that Arsenal couldn’t bring on the talented Miguel Azeez, with Ogungbo, a defender, coming on instead.
Much of the focus, though, will be on Mari, with the important aspect being that he got some playing time. He wasn’t outstanding but did show some encouraging signs and with the first-team squad being rather large there could be quite a few senior players involved at U23 level over the next few months.