Tabloid reports early this week indicated Bundesliga clubs were set to ‘load up’ planes to London to take in a pair of high-profile academy fixtures on Friday featuring Chelsea. Whether the influx happened at Arsenal’s training ground for an Under-18 league clash, or for the Premier League 2 date against Manchester City at a rain-soaked Aldershot, they’ll have gone home with plenty of food for thought, if they even came at all.
Andy Myers’ youth team essentially saw their four-year reign as the Southern league champions ended by an Arsenal side that might very well replace them not just as the best in the region, but by claiming their National title from them too. Last year’s Youth Cup Final this was not, but the Gunners have been a force this term too, and held an impotent Chelsea at arm’s length from start to finish.
That’s not to say that the Blues were outclassed or embarrassed; they just didn’t make a mark on proceedings. Folarin Balogun’s 20th goal of the season came in the only notable incident in a first half bereft of quality, before Tyreece John-Jules and Sam Greenwood put the game out of Chelsea’s reach early in the second. It took until the last minute for the Blues to muster a shot of note, but even then it came to nothing, as Armando Broja saw his powerful strike denied by the post.
The upshot of it all is that Chelsea are now nine points behind their London rivals with just six games to play. They do have a game in hand, but that’s against second-placed Tottenham, who have an additional game in hand in return (against Southampton in a match set to be played in front of 30,000 fans at the club’s new stadium). Accepting perhaps that this is not to be their year, few would blame the academy staff for turning their attentions towards next term, and getting a better look at the talented Under-16 class that have their own Premier League Cup Final this coming Friday against…Arsenal. Lewis Bate and Myles Peart-Harris finished the match together in central midfield and they represent the cream of a very talented crop in coach James Simmonds’ age group.
Four of the Development Squad’s starting eleven against Manchester City five hours later would have been eligible for the morning appointment, but even with nothing tangible to play for, the club resisted the urge to have them drop down a level. They were rewarded with a 2-0 win, and a Man of the Match performance from one of those four, as goalkeeper Karlo Žiger produced a string of fine first-half saves to stave off City’s best advances.
Luke McCormick, now hopefully over a stress fracture of his back that had been ailing him since August, scored a delightful opening goal midway through the first half, but the visitors had plenty of chances to restore parity and take charge themselves. Ill discipline took things away from them though; Cameron Humphreys was sent off before the hour mark for the second of two lazy bookings, and both Taylor Richards and Jeremie Frimpong followed him at the end of the night for talking back to no-nonsense referee Gary Parsons.
Daishawn Redan – who would also have been able to play at Arsenal – came off the bench to round things off with his 11th goal of a stop-start season, but it owed much to the tireless antics of Tariq Lamptey down the right. Tying Tyreke Wilson – one of five other Citizens booked –in knots, he was deservedly rewarded for a hard-working night in testing conditions.
The win sees Joe Edwards’ boys move up to joint-fourth in the table with three games to go, level on points with Liverpool, who they travel to next. A home date against Arsenal and a trip to title-chasing Brighton round off the season, but many of the group will now go away and prepare for Wednesday’s UEFA Youth League clash with Montpellier, as the road to Nyon resumes. The start of March typically signals the charge for silverware on all fronts at academy level, but right now, all eyes will be on the Under-19s.
Under-18s: Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea
Arsenal: T.Smith, Daley-Campbell, Swanson, M.Smith ©, McGuinness, Clarke, Greenwood, Cottrell, Balogun (Azeez 81), John-Jules (Musah 69), Coyle
Subs not Used: Ogungbo, Okonkwo, Dennis
Goals: Balogun ’25, John-Jules ’48, Greenwood ‘58
Chelsea: Tié, Simeu, McClelland, Ekwah Elimby, Lawrence (Clark 79), Russell (Peart-Harris 51), Lavinier ©, Bate, Nunn, Ballo, Lewis (Broja 60)
Subs not Used: Askew, Aina
Development Squad: Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City
Chelsea: Žiger, Lamptey, Guehi, Nartey, Maatsen, Gilmour, Uwakwe, Gallagher (Mola 90+4), Brown (Redan 79), McCormick © (McEachran 73), Castillo
Subs not Used: Bułka, Taylor-Crossdale
Goals: McCormick ’25, Redan ‘90+2
Booked: Gallagher, Lamptey, Gilmour
Manchester City: Grimshaw, Rosler (Frimpong 45), Garcia ©, Humphreys, Wilson, Pozo, Poveda, Richards, Touaizi (Gonzalez 64), Bernabe (Doyle 85), Nmecha
Subs not Used: Scott, Garre
Booked: Rosler, Humphreys, Bernabe, Pozo, Richards, Wilson, Doyle
Sent Off: Humphreys, Richards, Frimpong