Premier League 2
Arsenal 2 (Nelson 29, Patino 81) Chelsea 2 (Ballo 11, Lewis 32)
When Reiss Nelson made his debut for Arsenal’s second string in December 2015 Charlie Patino was just 12 years old, but both players were on the scoresheet tonight as Arsenal U23s came from behind to secure a point away to Chelsea and extend their unbeaten run to seven matches.
In truth Nelson shouldn’t really be playing at this level, having made almost half a century of first-team appearances for Arsenal. However, after he was left out of recent matchday squads and a loan move failed to materialise, the 21-year-old found himself featuring for Steve Bould’s side at Meadow Park.
Nelson, to his credit, acquitted himself well and was Arsenal’s standout player as he scored a superb free-kick, demonstrated his excellent technical ability and frequently sought to push his side forward.
At times Nelson was playing with such ease that it was like he was having a kickaround with his friends in the park, with the Chelsea defence finding it difficult to deal with him.
Arsenal, as a collective, struggled to match Nelson’s performance levels for the most part, with the young Gunners enduring a wretched first half. However, they emerged with greater determination in the second period and ended up getting a draw courtesy of Patino’s deflected effort, with the midfielder getting his first goal at this level.
There were two alterations to the side that drew with Tottenham Hotspur. Joseph Olowu’s loan move to Wealdstone allowed U18 defender Alex Kirk the chance to start for the U23s, while Nelson came in for Catalin Cirjan, who dropped to the bench. Also amongst the substitutes was goalkeeper Tom Smith, who recently returned from a loan spell with Dover Athletic. Arthur Okonkwo, meanwhile, is likely to be travelling with the first-team for tomorrow’s game against Aston Villa, where is set to be the third choice goalkeeper once again.
Chelsea were hugely impressive against Manchester United last time out and it was immediately apparent that Arsenal would face a tough task.
Arsenal goalkeeper Karl Hein had to be alert to keep out an effort from Thiemo Ballo, with Jonathan Dinzeyi later having to make an important intervention to cut out the danger.
Bryan Fiabema sent an effort wide as Chelsea put Arsenal under a considerable amount of pressure early on, and, with eleven minutes on the clock, the Blues took the lead, with Ballo producing a composed finish following a well-worked move.
Arsenal had to deal with further pressure thereafter. The impressive Valentino Livramento had a shot saved before Hein dropped the ball following a corner but Chelsea were unable to take advantage.
Fiabema had an effort deflected wide and then, finally, Arsenal started to get hold of the ball, with Nelson very much at the heart of proceedings.
The winger, who was initially deployed on the left flank, showed good skill and then sent in a cross towards Balogun, but the ball ended up hitting the striker on the hand.
Soon, though, Arsenal were level and it was no surprise that Nelson was the scorer as he managed to find the net with a superbly struck free-kick.
Arsenal weren’t level for long with Marcel Lewis, who caught the eye in the first half, getting the better of Hein with a good finish.
Balogun had a shot saved in the closing stages of the first half as he latched onto a clever flick from his strike partner Nikolaj Moller, but Arsenal went into the break behind.
Steve Bould has given plenty of fiery half time team-talks in the past and you could only imagine that he did the same on this occasion as Arsenal certainly seemed more eager to make an impact in the second half.
Dinzeyi sent a header wide following a corner, then Ben Cottrell’s free-kick went over.
Chelsea still posed an attacking threat themselves, although Fiabema probably should have done better than to send his effort into the side netting on one occasion.
Nelson, who by now had switched to the right wing, exchanged passes with Moller but ended up seeing his effort saved.
The game was now more of an end to end encounter, with Hein having to keep out Lewis Bate’s free-kick before Balogun, Nelson and Dinzeyi all had chances for Arsenal.
Eventually, Arsenal managed to equalise and there was an element of fortune about the goal as Patino’s effort deflected off Dujon Sterling. Chelsea goalkeeper Ethan Wady got a hand to the ball but couldn’t prevent it from going into the net.
Immediately after the goal Arsenal sent on Kido Taylor-Hart in place of Tim Akinola, and the substitute had a chance to score after being played in by Nelson but ended up shooting over.
Chelsea sought to restore their lead in the dying moments, with Lewis having a couple of opportunities, but the game ended level.
Perhaps it could be argued that Arsenal were a little fortunate to get a point given how badly they played in the first half, but Bould’s team were much more effective in the second half.
Nelson was undoubtedly the standout player, but Cottrell had some good moments too, while Patino will be delighted to have already opened his account for the U23s.
On the negative side Arsenal were quite vulnerable defensively at times. Hein remains unreliable in goal, which is why Okonkwo is currently ahead of him, while Joel Lopez’s performance, and especially his lack of positional sense, demonstrated why he isn’t yet being considered for the first team.
Akinola, meanwhile, cannot be faulted with regards to his effort but the midfielder doesn’t seem to have the same technical ability as most of his team-mates.
Overall, though, Arsenal will be pleased to have avoided defeat, especially given that they were again without Miguel Azeez, who is still out injured.
It is hoped that Nelson won’t have to play too many more games at U23 level but he showed tonight that the skillset that made him such an exciting prospect in the first place is still very much intact, while, perhaps more importantly, he remains determined to succeed.
Arsenal: Hein; Alebiosu, Kirk, Dinzeyi, Lopez; Cottrell, Akinola (Taylor-Hart, 82), Patino, Nelson; Balogun, Moller. Subs not used: T. Smith, Oyegoke, Cirjan, Ogungbo.