Chelsea’s recent good form at Under-23 level came to an end on Saturday as they were defeated 3-1 by title-chasing Arsenal at a snowy London Colney.
In freezing conditions, the Blues took an early lead through Kyle Scott, and enjoyed several more good opportunities to extend their advantage without taking them. Arsenal’s response was impressive though, stealing ahead before half time as Eddie Nketiah and Tyreece John-Jules struck, and Reiss Nelson put the result beyond doubt with a second-half free-kick.
With Ethan Ampadu injured, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Trevoh Chalobah on first-team duty, and the Under-18s preparing for a cup final on Sunday, Joe Edwards had a reduced squad to work with less than three days removed from Wednesday’s UEFA Youth League win again Real Madrid. He was at least able to bring in some more experience in the form of Scott and Ruben Sammut, and that paid early dividends.
Daishawn Redan had been denied a shot at goal moments earlier by the big Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, but poor decision-making in the home defence saw them concede possession in front of their own goal, and Scott finished confidently past Deyan Iliev to make it 1-0.
And it should have been more. Redan was proving to be a real nuisance to the Arsenal defenders and, when set clear by Sammut, he shrugged off Mavropanos to bear down on goal, only for Iliev to this time make a good save before Charlie Colkett’s follow-up was cleared off the line.
Having not made the most of their dominance, the Blues were made to pay, as Arsenal produced a much stronger spell of play later in the half, and scored twice to go in at the break ahead. The equaliser came courtesy of the prolific Nketiah, who slammed home on the volley from six yards out following a bout of penalty area pinball, and they then established a 2-1 leas through John-Jules.
The goal did arrive in somewhat controversial fashion, however, as the teenager’s backheeled finish was initially ruled out for offside. The officials conferred following Arsenal’s progress and, having decided that Scott had been the last player to play the ball, John-Jules was onside and the goal was legal.
The howling and bitterly cold wind made good football hard for either team to conjure up, particularly after having been in the warmth of their changing rooms at the break, but it was Chelsea who had to step up and find something extra to get back into the game. Redan dragged wide of the post and then turned a shot over the bar in following up Colkett’s stinging strike, and rather than being on terms, they were soon 3-1 down.
Again, there was a stroke of fortune about the goal, as referee Alan Dale awarded Arsenal a free kick wide on the left side of the Chelsea penalty area despite having let the hosts play on for an advantage they didn’t take. Nelson, to his credit, struck a powerful ball that beat Bułka at his near post, and that was enough to kill off a tiring Blues team.
Bułka did make a number of good saves to preserve some respectability to the scoreline, particularly from Nketiah and Josh Dasilva, but Arsenal scarcely needed to get out of second gear to see the win out. Reece James’ late foray down the left saw a good cross go without a finishing touch, and some good breaking runs from midfield by substitute Luke McCormick might have been rewarded on a other day, but this certainly wasn’t Chelsea’s.
Arsenal: Iliev, Osei-Tutu, Bola (c), Dasilva, Mavropanos, Medley, Dragomir, Willock, Nketiah, Nelson, John-Jules
Subs not Used: Gilmour, Barden, Ballard, Fortune, Amaechi
Goals: Nketiah 20, John-Jules 32, Nelson 65
Chelsea: Bułka, Sterling, Colley, James, Grant, Sammut (c), Maddox (C. Dasilva 71), Colkett, Redan (McCormick 63), Scott, St Clair
Subs not Used: Cumming, Nartey
Goal: Scott 17