Premier League 2
Arsenal 5 (Azeez 6, Balogun 10, 45, 90, Moller 86) Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Folarin Balogun provided another emphatic reminder of his quality by scoring a hat-trick as Arsenal U23s continued their recent resurgence with a 5-0 victory at home to Brighton & Hove Albion tonight.
Miguel Azeez put Arsenal ahead early on, with Nikolaj Moller also getting on the scoresheet, but it was Balogun who, not for the first time, took centre stage as he produced a performance which will spark even more discussion regarding his future at the club, which remains unresolved.
Arsenal U23, meanwhile, have now won five league games in a row, with this victory seeing them surge up the table from 11th to 5th. Considering how disappointingly Steve Bould’s side started the season, this is a significant turnaround.
This was Arsenal’s first game at this level in over a month following the Winter break, but there weren’t any signs of rustiness for Steve Bould’s side.
Recent arrival Omar Rekik was made to wait for his debut as he wasn’t included in the squad, while Zech Medley, Trae Coyle and Tolaji Bola, who have all returned from loan spells, also weren’t involved.
Arthur Okonkwo started in goal, with the back four comprised of Ryan Alebiosu, Jonathan Dinzeyi, Joseph Olowu and Joel Lopez. Azeez, Tim Akinola and Ben Cottrell were in midfield behind a dangerous attacking triumvirate of Catalin Cirjan, Moller and Balogun.
Arsenal started brightly with Balogun having an opportunity to open the scoring after just three minutes, but Brighton goalkeeper Thomas McGill was on hand to deny him.
McGill couldn’t do anything about Arsenal’s next effort, however, with Azeez opening the scoring in the sixth minute with his first goal at U23 level. The midfielder managed to find the top corner from the edge of the penalty area and then performed a socially distanced celebration.
It was soon 2-0 to Arsenal, with Balogun opening his account for the evening. The striker weaved his way through the Brighton defence prior to finishing well.
Brighton started to assert themselves on proceedings thereafter, with Teddy Jenks seeing a shot saved by Okonkwo, whilst Peter Gwargis also provided a threat.
However, Arsenal’s victory was effectively secured before half time, with Balogun getting his second.
Brighton posed more of a threat after the break and felt that they should have scored early in the second half, but Okonkwo managed to prevent Lars Dendoncker’s effort from going over the line. Brighton claimed that it had gone over, but the referee waved play on.
Azeez saw a shot saved for Arsenal but much of the action was occurring at the other end, with Okonkwo having to make several stops.
Arsenal managed to weather the storm and then sent on Kido Taylor-Hart, who has yet to sign a professional contract, in place of Cirjan.
Cashman shot wide for Brighton but Arsenal managed to rediscover their scoring touch in the closing stages as Moller and Balogun scored in quick succession to inflict further misery on the visitors. Midfielder Tim Akinola did well in the build-up to Moller’s goal as he dribbled into the penalty area prior to cutting the ball back for the Swedish striker.
Balogun demonstrated once again that he is a fine prospect, but we have known that for some time. The hope is that his future at Arsenal can somehow still be resolved.
If Balogun was to leave, however, Arsenal certainly aren’t short of talent elsewhere, especially in a creative and attacking sense.
Arsenal: Okonkwo, Alebiosu, Dinzeyi, Olowu, Lopez, Akinola, Cirjan (Taylor-Hart, 72), Azeez (Lewis, 87), Cottrell, Moller, Balogun.
Subs not used: Hillson, Kirk, Ogungbo.