One of Chelsea’s poorest performances at reserve team level in 2011-12 saw the Blues fall to a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Arsenal on Monday lunchtime.
A team featuring just two of the eleven which beat Fulham last time out failed to impose themselves on a more experienced Arsenal eleven and goals in either half from Chuks Aneke and Hector Bellerín secured three points for Neil Banfield’s Gunners.
Dermot Drummy was without Sam Hutchinson, Romelu Lukaku and Ryan Bertrand, who were all part of Roberto Di Matteo’s first team squad ahead of the trip to Birmingham City tomorrow, whilst Aziz Deen-Conteh, Rohan Ince and James Ashton were not involved. Jacob Mellis and Billy Clifford missed out pending an investigation into a breach of club discipline.
George Saville returned from a recent illness and was joined by Todd Kane and Jamal Blackman in offering experience alongside a host of first-year scholars including Nathan Aké and Adam Nditi, and schoolboy forward Islam Feruz.
Despite starting well, Chelsea failed to really get a grip on the game and were quickly playing catch-up with a stronger, bigger and fitter Arsenal midfield featuring Nico Yennaris, who has been regularly involved with Arsene Wenger’s senior squad this season.
Conor Clifford dragged an early effort wide of Damian Martinez’ post and there were openings for captain Nathaniel Chalobah both from a dead ball set-piece and from a corner but the hosts were rarely able to threaten the Argentinian in goal.
Arsenal’s first sight of goal saw midfielder Kyle Ebecilio hit the post before Zak Ansah somehow contrived to miss the simplest of rebounds, but despite the hiccup they had the better of the game, driven on by the directness of Josh Rees and the nimble feet of Serge Gnabry.
Amin Affane – fresh from a brace against the same opposition at Under-18 level ten days earlier – tried his luck from distance and forced Martinez into action but whilst he was denied, Aneke was successful at the other end, breaking a poor offside trap before rounding Blackman and tucking home in composed fashion.
Chelsea’s approach was to look for well-timed through balls into forward Patrick Bamford but the timing was never quite there. Leggy Arsenal defenders Martin Angha and Elton Monteiro ate up the ground well against the shorter Affane and Feruz, and generally dealt with whatever was thrown at them.
The visitors, however, were more interested in winning one-on-one battles and dribbling into opposition territory, an area in which Aneke, Ansah and Gnabry in particular excelled. The German teenager went close to a second before the break but was denied by Aké’s clearance.
Despite introducing the impressive Lewis Baker at half time, Chelsea failed to grasp control of the game and it became a messy affair dominated by half-chances for Arsenal to extend their lead.
It took until the hour mark for Martinez to make his first really good save of the game when Lucas Piazon unleashed a fabulous effort from long range which asked the big man to use every inch of his ample frame to turn the ball away for a corner.
With the game stretched and entering the latter stages, Arsenal doubled their lead, albeit in controversial fashion. Substitute Bellerín broke clear of the defence but was denied by Blackman, and Adam Nditi was able to block Ansah’s follow-up. Yet the Spaniard rose from a prone position on the ground – perhaps offside – and flicked a header towards the goal.
Whether the ball crossed the line or not is debatable – television cameras suggested not – but it bore little impact on the final score as despite late openings for Saville and Nditi, Chelsea were unable to find the scoresheet for the first time since a 4-0 defeat at West Brom in November.
Drummy and company will be expecting a lot better next time out away to Wolves in a match where their squad is likely to be affected by the FA Youth Cup.
Chelsea: Blackman, Kane, Chalobah (c), Aké, Nditi (Davey 85), C.Clifford, Saville, Affane (Baker 45), Feruz, Lucas Piazon, Bamford (Seremba 75)
Sub not Used: Mitchell Beeney
Arsenal: Martinez, Angha, Monteiro, Hoyte (c), Meade, Yennaris, Ebecilio (Bellerín 59, Wynter 80), Aneke, Rees, Gnabry, Ansah (Roberts 80)
Subs not Used: Shea, Jeffrey
Goals: Aneke, Bellerín (AFC)
Booked: Aké (CFC)