Premier League 2
Arsenal 2 (Balogun 1, 63) Manchester City 4 (Bernabe 33, 88, Harwood-Bellis 79, Braaf 84)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
In recent years it has become less common for first-team players to feature in U23 matches, but this was something of a throwback, with an Arsenal squad containing five senior players being beaten by a Manchester City side which included Leroy Sane.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, making his first appearance at this level since 2018, started the game along with Pablo Mari and Matt Macey, while Rob Holding and Reiss Nelson featured in the second half, but it was an U23 regular who particularly caught the eye as Folarin Balogun scored a brace.
Balogun has been prolific for the U23s this season – he has scored ten goals in 14 matches – and he will surely be above playing at this level next campaign – but despite his best efforts Arsenal suffered their third defeat in succession.
Harry Clarke has taken over as captain following the departure of Robbie Burton, while Maitland-Niles started at left-back and Zech Medley was deployed on the left wing, a position which he has experience of playing in, albeit not recently.
Miguel Azeez was afforded his first U23 start in midfield as he continues to make impressive progress.
Subs: Nelson (for Maitland-Niles, 46), Holding (for Mari, 46), McEneff (for Swanson, 82). Not used: Hein, Omole.
Arsenal raced out of the traps and they took the lead in the first minute, with the clinical Balogun scoring after he capitalised upon a City mistake.
Macey then had to alert at the other end to make a fine save from the lively Jayden Braaf.
Zak Swanson was faced with the unenviable task of being up against Sane, who was making his return from injury, but he coped admirably against the winger and on one occasion did well to dispossess him prior to bursting forwards and winning a corner.
Trae Coyle then played the ball into the path of Ben Cottrell with a neat back-heel, but the latter’s effort lacked conviction.
City threatened to equalise and they eventually did so, with Adrian Bernabe’s effort initially hitting the post before going in.
Medley had a chance to restore Arsenal’s lead just before the break but he shot just wide.
Arsenal made a double change at the start of the second half, with Holding and Nelson replacing Mari and Maitland-Niles as Medley moved to left-back.
Holding did well initially, making a fine block, and then Medley teed up Balogun with a cross, but the striker couldn’t score on this occasion.
Soon, though, Balogun made amends as he finished adroitly to put Arsenal 2-1 up.
Nelson then shot narrowly wide, but City soon started to increase the pressure and Macey had to make several impressive saves.
His good work was undone, however, as he failed to react properly when faced with Taylor Harwood-Bellis’ effort and City equalised.
There was further disappointment to come for Arsenal and Swanson hobbled off to be replaced by Jordan McEneff.
Coyle had a penalty claim turned down and then City took the lead, with Braaf scoring before Bernabe struck again to inflict further misery upon the young Gunners.
Despite having suffered yet another defeat, there were some positives to take from proceedings, with a quintet of first-team players having received run-outs, while Balogun and Swanson were impressive.
Matt Smith, too, did well in midfield, although patience will be required as Azeez adapts to this level.
Some of the first-team players, Mari and Maitland-Niles in particular, didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, while Arsenal’s second half display wasn’t of a very high standard.
What do you think is the reason behind this (and possible other) home defeat, Jeorge?
– Does Man City have a phenomenal squad?
– Are we so poor individually and talent-wise?
– Is it the lack of cohesion among U23 and first team players?
– Or maybe Steve Bould is rather a quasi-legend relic from the Wenger days, but not a competent coach?
I think a lack of cohesion was one factor and also quite a few players seemed tired.
On Sat, 29 Feb 2020, 08:39 Jeorge Bird's Arsenal Youth, wrote:
Thanks for your insight, mate.