A chaotic contest in Premier League 2 ended with all three points heading south as our development squad ran out winners at the end of a nine-goal thriller.
After leading after 10 minutes, Arsenal quickly found themselves 3-1 down. Bukayo Saka gave them the lead with a smart finish but a swift and spirited fightback saw Tino Anjorin, Daishawn Redan and Josh Grant all find the net before the midway point of the first period.
A two-goal cushion was never going to be comfortable in a game like this and the Gunners soon starting to chip away at our lead. Danny Ballard headed in from a corner to make it 3-2 before Eddie Nketiah equalised before the break.
There was a brief period of midfield control at the start of the second half but that didn’t last for long. Conor Gallagher and Nketiah exchanged goals around the hour mark before Billy Gilmour won it for the Blues late on with a precise finish into the bottom corner. It helped us leapfrog Arsenal into third, four points behind league leaders Everton.
Manager Joe Edwards made six changes from a superb win at Plymouth in the Checkatrade Trophy in midweek as both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu came into the team, as well as Charlie Wakefield for his first competitive action following a lengthy injury layoff.
Ampadu started at centre-back alongside Marc Guehi in a reworked back four, with Grant at right-back and Juan Castillo on the left in front of goalkeeper Jamie Cumming. In midfield, Anjorin’s recent good form was rewarded with a first development squad start next to Gilmour and Gallagher. Redan led the line up front supported from wide by Wakefield and Hudson-Odoi.
The Gunners started the day three places above the Blues in the Premier League 2 table, having made a positive start to the defence of their league title, and had not lost in this London derby in the previous four meetings. Yet it was the visitors who started brightest on a fresh winter’s afternoon in Boreham Wood.
Wakefield’s impact from the right wing was demonstrated early on as an inviting cross was delivered into the six-yard box but evaded the supporting cast in the box. It marked a good start for the young Blues but they fell behind inside 10 minutes as Freddie Ljungberg’s side scored with their first attack, Saka slotting into the corner after escaping in behind from the left.
It could have been 2-0 moments later as a short corner routine paid dividends for the hosts and the ball was worked cleverly to the feet of Eddie Nketiah on the edge of the box, though the striker’s first-time strike flew narrowly over Cumming’s crossbar.
However, the Chelsea response was swift and emphatic, turning the scoreline around with three goals in five minutes. The equaliser owed much to the errors of Arsenal, though Anjorin deserves credit for hassling Deyan Iliev, the goalkeeper, in possession. The Macedonian hesitated as the ball rolled towards the box and our 16-year-old midfielder pounced, stealing the ball and tucking it into an unguarded net for his ninth goal of the season.
Edwards’s side had the lead a minute later with a goal constructed with pure simplicity, Wakefield whipping in a perfect cross for Redan, who stole ahead of the defenders and headed in from six yards out. Arsenal were wilting and we quickly sensed the opportunity to build a cushion in the contest. Captain Grant provided the decisive intervention for our third, rising highest in the box to head in a corner from the right and make it 3-1 after just 18 minutes played.
The home side persevered with their open style of play, which left spaces to exploit but also ensured they remained a constant attacking force. Grant was put to work in more familiar territory to preserve our advantage, hooking off the line with Cumming beaten, before Ballard headed straight at our keeper from the resulting corner.
Set-pieces proved a regular source of worry for Edwards and it proved the downfall for his side after half hour as Ballard’s thumping header arrowed into the top corner, leaving Cumming with no chance.
Goals are usually on the menu when these two London rivals meet and chances continued to be fashioned down both ends of the field. Cumming had to make an impressive save to deny Nketiah and push the ball behind, while his opposite number Iliev was brave in diving at the feet of Anjorin after the teenager had nicked the ball high up the pitch again, this time from defender Zech Medley.
Neither side had the capacity for control in an end-to-end encounter but it was the defending league champions who looked likeliest to score next before the interval. Nketiah teed up Charlie Gilmour to take aim from 20 yards out but the midfielder’s finish sliced wide, before Nketiah himself made no mistake in making it 3-3. It was a clever finish from the forward, whose quick footwork evaded the goalkeeper after Saka’s low shot had been parried.
Half-time provided a brief reprieve to the game’s ferocious tempo and the restart was more measured as both teams tried to settle down. It took 12 minutes before a clear opportunity was fashioned and it came courtesy of Hudson-Odoi as the winger jinked infield from the left and hit the outside of the far post with a curling effort.
A chaotic contest soon resumed though with two goals in two minutes. Gallagher made it 4-3 with a brilliant free-kick bent over the wall and into the top corner but Nketiah quickly levelled, exploiting the goalscorer’s short pass back to the keeper and beating Cumming to net his second of the afternoon.
The final 20 minutes gave both sides the platform to turn one point into three and it was Edwards’s side who looked most likely to prove victorious. Iliev did well to tip Hudson-Odoi’s stinging drive over before Gallagher missed the target at the near post after a neat move involving Castillo and Hudson-Odoi down the left.
The final goal of a manic afternoon came with 82 minutes on the clock as Scotland Under-21 international Gilmour bagged his seventh goal of the campaign with a rasping strike into the bottom corner, beyond the despairing dive of the goalkeeper. Edwards’s side defended better in order to hold on to the advantage and maintain their 100 per cent league record on the road.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Jamie Cumming; Josh Grant (c), Ethan Ampadu (Joseph Colley h/t), Marc Guehi, Juan Castillo; Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin (George McEachran 71); Charlie Wakefield (Tariq Lamptey 74), Daishawn Redan, Callum Hudson-Odoi
Unused subs Jared Thompson, Martell Taylor-Crossdale
Scorers Anjorin 14; Redan 15; Grant 18; Gallagher 62; Gilmour 82
Arsenal Deyan Iliev, Julio Pleguezuelo (c), Dominic Thompson, Charlie Gilmour (James Olayinka 87), Danny Ballard, Zech Medley, Tyreece John-Jules (Trae Coyle 76), Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Robbie Burton (Gedion Zelalem 88), Bukayo Saka
Unused subs Tolaji Bola, Arthur Okonkwo
Scorers Saka 9; Ballard 31; Nketiah 42, 63
Booked Medley 51