That was more like it.
It hasn’t been the smoothest start to the season for Chelsea’s Under-18s, who were held to a draw at home to Leicester City two weeks ago before a defeat at Tottenham last time out, but they put all of that behind them with a handsome 3-1 win over a previously unbeaten Arsenal at Cobham on Saturday morning.
They had goalkeeper Karlo Žiger to thank for the victory as he pulled off a succession of outstanding saves, but they were good value for the three points in every department, and secured the result courtesy of goals from Thierno Ballo, Clinton Mola and Ian Maatsen.
Arsenal came into the match off the back of three wins from three, including a 7-0 hammering of that same Leicester team Chelsea only drew with, and were almost ahead inside two minutes. Slack defending presented Folarin Balogun with an early sight of goal, but he couldn’t beat Žiger, nor could Trae Coyle from the ensuing corner, as the young Croatian flung himself high to tip the ball over the crossbar.
It meant the hosts could go down the other end and take the lead themselves. Maatsen put in the hard yards down the left before picking out George Nunn with a cross, and although his header might have been over the line before Arthur Okonkwo could make the save, Ballo was on hand to make sure with the rebound for 1-0.
That had all happened with less than five minutes on the clock, and the rest of the first half barely let up either. Balogun had another chance when Coyle set him clear with a gorgeous slide-rule pass, but Jack Wakely recovered to make a great tackle to clear his lines, while Bukayo Saka was a constant threat on the left.
He and Jordan McEneff threatened in quick succession, as did schoolboy Yunus Musah, but Chelsea looked lively enough going the other way as Faustino Anjorin drove through the midfield, and Marcel Lewis was his busy self in a fluid front three that saw Nunn often drop off and Ballo take over as the centre forward.
The lead remained intact until half time, and was doubled ten monies after the break, with Maatsen keenly involved again. He collected Anjorin’s cross-field pass before slipping Mola into a good position inside the area, and the captain set himself before finding the far bottom corner with a smart finish.
Then it was Žiger’s turn to return to centre stage. For his first trick, he showed outstanding reactions to keep out an effort from Matt Smith’s inswinging free-kick, before frustrating Musah with another top-drawer save to prevent the youngster from atoning for a poor miss moments earlier.
He was eventually beaten when Balogun glanced Harry Clarke’s cross into the back of the net to reduce the deficit, but Chelsea weren’t to be denied, and neither was Maatsen. He made it 3-1 with ten minutes left after collecting Valentino Livramento’s pass, cleverly left by Marcel Lewis, and thundering an unstoppable strike beyond Okonkwo, and it was everything his performance had warranted.
It was a great way to sign off before the international break, whilst James Simmonds’ Under-16s also enjoyed their morning against their Arsenal counterparts, winning 9-0.
Chelsea: Žiger, Simeu (Clark 64), Wakely, McClelland, Maatsen, Mola (c), Livramento, Anjorin (Russell 80), Nunn, Ballo (Broja 68), Lewis
Subs not Used: Askew, Ekwah Elimby
Goals: Ballo 4, Mola 55, Maatsen 80
Arsenal: Okonkwo, Daley-Campbell (Clarke 59), Swanson, Smith, Spencer-Adams, Ogungbo, Musah (Cottrell 74), McEneff, Balogun, Coyle (Greenwood 65), Saka
Subs not Used: Hein, Matthews
Goal: Balogun 71