Our youngsters recorded their first home win of the season in the Under-18 Premier League, coming out on top after an entertaining London derby at Cobham.
A frantic pace was set right from the kick-off as Karlo Ziger, our goalkeeper, made two excellent saves before starting the counter-attacking move that broke the deadlock. Thierno Ballo was the goalscorer, the new signing poking home from close range, before Clinton Mola doubled our lead early in the second half.
Arsenal’s threat was difficult to contain at times and they found a way back into the game with 20 minutes remaining as Folarin Balogun’s header beat Ziger, though Andy Myers’s side had the right response and sealed the points with a neat third goal that was thundered into the top corner by Ian Maatsen.
Myers made five changes from last weekend’s defeat at Tottenham and shifted to a 3-4-2-1 shape, with Ballo and Marcel Lewis deployed in support of striker George Nunn. Dynel Simeu, Jack Wakely and Sam McClelland lined up across the back three, the latter making his debut following a summer move from Northern Ireland, while Maatsen and Tino Livramento started at wing-back.
Tino Anjorin and Mola were the central midfield pairing and Ziger continued between the sticks, with the Croatian keeper influential during a frenetic opening few minutes. A mistake in possession at the back handed an opportunity for Balogun to run clear at goal but Ziger showed agility to get down low and push the ball behind with a strong hand.
The resulting corner caused problems in the Blues box and the loose ball fell kindly for Trae Coyle, who fired at goal on the turn, though our stopper was equal to it once again as he rose high to tip the strike over the bar.
It was then Ziger’s quick thinking and precise throw into space for Maatsen that initiated the counter-attack leading to our opening goal. The Dutch wing-back advanced purposefully before delivering an inviting cross for Nunn at the far post and, though the striker’s header was kept out by Arthur Okonkwo, the rebound was poked in by Ballo.
The Austrian’s second goal of the season provided a promising platform for the hosts, though the Gunners were not likely to surrender their 100 per cent winning start to the campaign without a fight. An impressive tally of 13 goals in those three games was an indicator of their attacking potency and Coyle once again threatened as he found a forward pass for Balogun, who was thwarted by a crucial recovery challenge from Wakely.
The encounter’s intensity remained high and the pace of the game was fast, with chances continuing to come at both ends. Jordan McEneff skipped into the Chelsea box after half hour but McClelland read the danger and made a block, before Anjorin took aim at goal but saw his left-footed strike charged down.
Despite their occasional difficulties in the first period, Myers’s men took a slender advantage into the interval and restarted with more of a foothold in the contest. McClelland rose high to meet a left-sided corner but failed to trouble Okonkwo with his header, though it didn’t take much longer for the Blues to make it 2-0.
Anjorin picked out Maatsen on the left with a sweeping pass and the defender got his second assist of the morning by finding Mola inside the box, the 17-year-old's low shot trickling across the face of goal and into the bottom corner.
There was still a long battle ahead for the Blues to secure their first home victory of the season and Ziger continued to excel in keeping his sheet clean. An inswinging free-kick from Matt Smith was flicked towards goal by an outstretched leg but acrobatically tipped onto the bar by the keeper, before he denied Yunus Musah with a strong save to his right.
However, there was nothing Ziger could do as Arsenal halved the deficit to tee up a dramatic final 20 minutes. A cross from the right spelt danger for the hosts and Balogun found space to glance a simple header into the far corner.
It required a test of character and physical endurance for the league champions to see the game through and take all three points. Substitute Armando Broja went close after escaping the attentions of defenders and running clear in behind, though his touch was too strong as he looked to round Okonkwo and the ball spun out of play.
There was no further reprieve for the Gunners as our third goal after 81 minutes secured the points and inflicted the first defeat of the season on our London rivals. It was a well-crafted move from right to left as schoolboy Livramento played a pass infield, Nunn dummied intelligently and Maatsen fashioned enough space to rifle his finish high into the top corner.
It capped an impressive team performance from the Blues and earned a result that was as much down to excellent goalkeeping as it was quality further up the field. The youngsters return to action with a trip to Swansea in a fortnight, which is also the destination for our development squad tomorrow as they head to Wales for their latest PL2 assignment.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Karlo Ziger; Dynel Simeu (James Clark 65), Jack Wakely, Sam McClelland; Tino Livramento, Clinton Mola, Tino Anjorin (Jon Russell 78), Ian Maatsen; Thierno Ballo (Armando Broja 68), Marcel Lewis; George Nunn
Unused subs Jake Askew, Pierre Ekwah Elimby
Scorers Ballo 4; Mola 55; Maatsen 81
Booked Simeu; Mola
Arsenal Arthur Okonkwo, Vontae Daley-Campbell (Harrison Clarke 59), Zak Swanson, Matt Smith (c), Bayli Spencer-Adams, Mazeed Ogungbo, Yunus Musah (Ben Cottrell 74), Jordan McEneff, Folarin Balogun, Trae Coyle (Sam Greenwood 65), Bukayo Saka
Unused subs Karl Hein, Sam Greenwood, Alfie Matthews
Scorer Balogun 71
-Pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom