Premier League 2
Arsenal 3 (Balogun 14, 65 (pen.), Salah-Eddine 32) Brighton & Hove Albion 0
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
Arsenal U23s played at Emirates Stadium for the first time this season and the big stage seemed to suit Kevin Betsy’s side as they produced an impressive performance in dispatching of Brighton & Hove Albion with a 3-0 win.
Having weathered an early storm, Arsenal went on to assert themselves on proceedings, with the lively Folarin Balogun scoring a brace, while Salah-Eddine, who was again very impressive, also found the net.
There were plenty of positive performances from Arsenal players, including midfielders Charlie Patino and Tim Akinola, with the young Gunners temporarily going top of the league given that Manchester City aren’t in action until tomorrow.
What is most impressive, though, is how Betsy has managed to transform this team by providing them with a defensive structure without negating their attacking instincts, something which rarely happened under Steve Bould last season.
Omar Rekik returned from suspension, while Karl Hein replaced Arthur Okonkwo in goal. With Betsy keeping most of his team intact, Omari Hutchinson and Kido Taylor-Hart again had to be content with being on the bench, while Ben Cottrell wasn’t included in the squad.
Subs: Hutchinson (for Akinola, 70), Walters (for Alebiosu, 78), Olayinka (for Monlouis, 83). Not used: Ejeheri, Taylor-Hart.
Brighton went into the game in second place and above Arsenal on goal difference and they signalled their intent in the opening minute with a header that rattled the crossbar.
Hein was then forced into an astute stop, with Brighton looking the more dangerous side early on.
Arsenal has started slowly but then sought to seize control of the game. Patino, who relishes dictating play from midfield, played a superb pass into the path of Balogun, who dragged his shot wide.
Shortly afterwards Arsenal were awarded a penalty when Balogun was fouled in the area. The striker stepped up to take the spot-kick himself, and, although his initial effort was saved by Kjell Scherpen, he succeeded in scoring the rebound.
Brighton looked to pull level immediately, with Hein being tested again but Arsenal had ten majority of the chances thereafter.
Firstly, Akinola had an effort saved before Salah-Eddine’s shot was kept out.
Then it was 2-0, with Salah-Eddine finishing well to apply the finishing touch to an exquisite team move that encompassed Patino finding Lopez, who sent in a teasing cross that was met well.
Mika Biereth was working very hard up front without having much fall for him. On one occasion he forced a save from Scherpen, with Akinola having made a commendable sauntering run in the build up.
Arsenal led 2-0 going into the break and started the second half eager to get a third goal as Balogun did well to turn before seeing his effort pushed behind for a corner.
Ryan Alebiosu was starting to provide an attacking threat from right wing-back and he shot wide before Balogun won another penalty.
This time Balogun was able to score directly from the spot as he effectively put the game beyond doubt. With six goals in four matches at this level this season, surely he needs to be playing senior football of some description in the second half of the campaign.
Hutchinson then entered the fray in place of Akinola, who has improved considerably compared to his performances last season.
Having just come on Hutchinson, who was deployed in midfield, had an opportunity to make an instant impact but shot wide from close range.
Brighton were continuing to threaten intermittently, with Hein making a save.
First-year scholar Reuell Walters, who is continuing to gain valuable experience at this level, replaced Ryan Alebiosu at right wing-back but soon had to move across to centre-back as Zane Monlouis went off injured and James Olayinka came on.
Patino tried his luck from distance and shot over before going down injured a little while later but he was thankfully able to continue.
Arsenal managed to keep their clean sheet intact and secured a 3-0 win, with Betsy’s team taking another step in the right direction.
There was much to admire about the performance, with the midfield trio of Salah-Eddine, Patino and Akinola doing their jobs effectively, while Lopez pushed forward well and Monlouis was effective defensively.
Rekik again shone in his hybrid role of a centre-back pushing into midfield and personifies the tactical flexibility that Betsy has afforded his team.
There may well be a blip at some point but at present matters are going very well for Arsenal U23s, with plenty of progress being made by players in various positions.