A spectacular brace from Nathaniel Chalobah ensured a superb end to Chelsea’s 2011 calendar as the Blues secured an impressive 4-0 victory away to Arsenal.
The defender-cum-midfielder, who only turned 17 last Monday, opened the scoring in the first half with a cheeky backheel and after Romelu Lukaku doubled the lead with his fourth in as many games, Chalobah put the seal on things with a beautifully flighted free kick. Lucas Piazon would add the cherry to the cake with a fine solo effort late in the gane.
Dermot Drummy made three changes from the team which beat Aston Villa a fortnight ago, bringing Ben Gordon and Rohan Ince into the back four to replace Sam Hutchinson and Aziz Deen-Conteh, whilst Jacob Mellis returned from injury to take his place in midfield ahead of Billy Clifford, who recently suffered a knock of his own.
Like Chelsea, Arsenal have a handful of senior reserve players out on loan but included the likes of Craig Eastmond, Oguzhan Ozyakup and Daniel Boateng, who have all tasted first team action at the Emirates Stadium.
Conditions at London Colney were less than favourable as cold winds combined with heavy rain to make the players uncomfortable, but it allowed for quick ball movement as the quality playing surface had an added zip to it.
The Blues had the first chance of the afternoon as Chalobah arrived late in the box before shooting wide, but the approach play involving Mellis, Piazon and Lukaku hinted at much promise to come.
Arsenal’s best moments would come through striker Rhys Murphy, who saw the first of half a dozen efforts on the day fly over Rhys Taylor’s crossbar after a fortuitous deflection off George Saville saw the ball sit up nicely.
Indeed, the hosts set about their best spell of the match in the opening twenty minutes and had further sights of goal through Jernade Meade and Martin Angha, but neither could find the target with their efforts.
With both teams moving the ball about well and closing down with great tempo, tackles began to fly in and a bit of needle developed between Eastmond and Kaby. The latter had his name taken by the referee for a late tackle on Ozyakup and was quickly followed by Milan Lalkovic for a foul on Meade.
Lukaku saw a goal ruled out for offside before Taylor kept his team in the game at the other end, denying Murphy one on one after the Arsenal forward had escaped the attentions of both Chelsea centre-backs.
The visitors opened the scoring with a little more than five minutes remaining in the first half. Goalkeeper Martinez failed to deal with a corner and after both Mellis and Kaby had fired shots back into the crowded goalmouth, Chalobah had the presence of mind to fire a backheel towards goal and had enough on it to beat the Argentinian stopper.
It was just about deserved on the balance of play as whilst Arsenal had produced more in terms of efforts at goal, Chelsea had played the more progressive football and controlled large spells of the game in the midfield, with Mellis particularly effective.
After a lengthy half time break in the warm confines of the changing rooms, Chelsea came out brighter in the second half and needed just four minutes to double their advantage.
This time Chalobah turned provider, striding through tackles in the middle of the park before releasing Lalkovic in behind. The Slovakian looked set to shoot but disguised his pass well, instead setting up Lukaku for the easiest of tap-ins.
Murphy continued to threaten as his team’s lone striker, dragging another effort wide whilst playing Meade in behind for a chance which Taylor denied by the smallest of margins.
Mellis was withdrawn with just under an hour played, allowing Islam Feruz to make his reserve team debut. The 16 year-old schoolboy has scored six goals for Adie Viveash’s Under-18 team this season and has been in fine recent form.
Chelsea were well in control but had a lapse in concentration when Murphy broke clear of the last defender. The forward had presumed he was offside and punted the ball towards goal, where it struck the post. Had it gone in, there was no flag and it would have counted.
Lukaku was inches away from adding another after Lalkovic produced a fizzing cross from the right, before the pair swapped roles for a similarly close outcome.
Feruz was lively on debut and was close to making an impact were it not for an offside flag denying him a chance at a rebound after Martinez spilled Lukaku’s tame effort.
The Scottish youth international did play a big role in Chelsea’s third though, winning a free kick on the edge of the box after being fouled by the considerably bigger Boateng.
Chalobah executed an inch-perfect set piece, getting the ball up and down over the wall and into the top corner for his second of the day and third of the season.
He quickly made way for another debutant in Dutchman Nathan Aké, whilst handing the captain’s armband to Carl Magnay, who was given a fifteen minute cameo in what would be his final appearance for the club.
With the points in the bag, Drummy’s players were clearly buzzing with energy and each player appeared to fancy themselves to add to the scoresheet.
After Feruz and Lukaku tried but failed, Piazon produced the goods with as fine a solo effort as you’re likely to see. Carrying the ball into the box he checked right and left, bamboozling defenders before lashing home from eight yards out.
It capped a sensational year of football for the club at reserve team level, after securing the national league title in May and now extending their current unbeaten run to five games, a spell of form which has taken them to third in the table.
They now go on their winter break before returning to action on January 9th against West Brom at Cobham.
Team: Taylor, Kane, Ince (Magnay 75), Saville, B. Gordon, Chalobah (c) (Aké 80), Mellis (Feruz 55), Kaby, Piazon, Lalkovic, Lukaku
Subs not Used: Blackman, Prosenik, Nditi
Goals: Chalobah ’38, ’73, Lukaku ’49, Piazon ’88