Premier League 2
Everton 1 (Broadhead 41) Arsenal 1 (Balogun 81)
If Folarin Balogun does end up leaving Arsenal this summer then it is clear that the club will be losing a fantastic talent.
That point was re-emphasised today as a rather cobbled together Arsenal U23s side drew 1-1 away to Everton.
Balogun scored Arsenal’s equaliser with a scintillating strike that was preceded by him running from the halfway line before going for goal from just outside the area. It remains to be seen whether it will be sufficient to keep the U23s in the top tier of Premier League 2, but, one way or another, it seems unlikely that Balogun will be playing at this level next season.
Steve Bould found his selection options rather restricted by the fact that Miguel Azeez, Zane Monlouis, Kido Taylor-Hart and Catalin Cirjan were unavailable following their involvement in the FA Youth Cup on Saturday.
In their absence, there were chances to impress for Daniel Oyegoke, Tolaji Bola and George Lewis, while 17-year-old midfielder Jack Henry-Francis, who came on as a substitute yesterday, made his competitive debut at this level. First-year scholar Henry Jeffcott received his first callup as he was named on what was a very young bench.
Arsenal lined up with a back five as Oyegoke, Jonathan Dinzeyi and Bola occupied the centre-back positions.
Subs not used: Graczyk, Foran, Awe, Jeffcott, Ideho.
With Arsenal lacking cohesion and Everton also struggling to make much of an impact early on, the game got off to a rather slow start.
When opportunities were created they often fell Arsenal’s way. Firstly Coyle shot wide, then Lewis delivered a good cross but Balogun was unable to provide a finish to match.
Balogun, who was becoming increasingly prominent in proceedings, then had a shot saved before Arsenal goalkeeper Tom Smith had to make an important intervention at the other end.
Arsenal had probably been the better side in the first half but it was Everton who went into the break in the ascendancy as Nathan Broadhead finished well in the 41st minute.
There was much more intensity in the second half, with Arsenal starting brightly.
Balogun had a shot saved and then Coyle had a penalty claim turned down.
Coyle, who gave a good account of himself, saw another attempt kept out, but Everton still posed an attacking threat of their own.
Firstly, Mackenzie Hunt found the side-netting before Dinzeyi had to kick the ball over his own crossbar to cut out the danger while under considerable pressure.
Balogun then dragged an effort wide, with Coyle again being thwarted by Everton goalkeeper Harry Tyrer.
By this point Arsenal were putting Everton under considerable pressure and Henry-Francis, who impressed on his debut, played a neat pass into the path of Balogun, who saw his shot saved.
Balogun had another shot blocked and claimed a penalty for handball which wasn’t given before Joel Lopez, pushing forward from left wing-back, tried his luck with a header that was kept out.
Eventually Arsenal managed to equalise and the goal was certainly worth the wait. Balogun pushed forward from the halfway line and then unleashed a spectacular effort that Tyrer could do little about.
Arsenal looked to get a winner but the closing stages of the game were rather scrappy, with Bola booked for a foul and Everton’s Tyler Onyango getting sent off for a second bookable offence as he clashed with the Arsenal defender.
Everton had a late chance to get a winner but Smith reacted superbly to tip Broadhead’s free-kick over the crossbar.
Arsenal’s winless run has now extended to eight games, but this was one of the better performances that they have produced during that period, especially when it is taken into consideration that they were without several of their key players.
Balogun was impressive, while Coyle also caught the eye and Henry-Francis deserves much credit for settling in well at this level.
Lopez had a mixed performance as he struggled in the first half but improved as the game went on, but Lewis wasn’t heavily involved as he was unable to make the most of a rare chance to impress.
Arsenal have just four games remaining this season, but the threat of relegation is very much still there, with Bould’s side five points clear of the drop zone and the teams directly below them, Leicester City and Southampton, having a game in hand.