An entertaining game at Meadow Park ended level as Chelsea's development squad made their return to match action on Friday night.
Thierno Ballo found the net first to give Chelsea an early lead and midfield man Marcel Lewis, who assisted the first, was on hand to apply the finishing touches to our next move and reclaim the lead after Reiss Nelson drew his side level moments earlier..
Chelsea's half-time lead was well deserved and we were made to work hard to keep our advantage once we returned to the field. Though we could only hold out until the 81st minute , and Arsenal scored the final goal of the game to snatch a point at Meadow Park. The result sees Chelsea remain fourth, now on 23 points.
Andy Myers’ first starting 11 of 2021 came a little later than expected and featured some names we hadn't seen at this level during this campaign. Ethan Wady was between the sticks for his first ever development squad outing while Dujon Sterling made up part of the back three on his return to football after a lengthy injury. George McEachran was in midfield for the first time since coming back from a short loan spell at MVV Maastricht and Levi Colwil captained the team from the back.
Back in action
A late change to the line-up saw George Nunn take the place of Henry Lawrence, providing width on the left, and our first chance came within the opening minute of play. Lewis wriggled in to the box and smartly squeezed the ball to Ballo who warmed the hands of Karl Hein.
After the fast start from the Myers’ men who hadn’t played in over a month, we found a breakthrough in the 11th minute - Ballo was involved in all of our early moves, the latter of which provided the goal.
Tino Livramento played the ball forward and a neat back heel from Lewis gave Ballo possession in the box. The 19-year-old made no mistake and coolly found the bottom corner out of Hein’s reach, the extended period without competitive action hadn’t troubled Chelsea’s trademark high-energy start.
Not behind for long
Against the run of play in the 29th minute, Arsenal were level and in quite harsh circumstances from a Chelsea point of view as Ballo appeared to get a foot on the ball in a challenge 30 yards out, but the referee thought otherwise.
As a result, Reiss Nelson took aim from the free-kick and arrowed the ball in to the top corner out of Wady’s reach, we were level at 1-1.
Lewis was at the heart of every Chelsea attack and turned provider for the goal which restored our lead. A one-two with McEachran set Lewis charging at goal and he took his shot early, powering into the bottom corner from range just two minutes after Arsenal’s leveller.
A solid end to the half saw Chelsea reinsert our dominance, limiting Arsenal to possession too far away from Wady’s goal to pose any real threat. The one time the American stopper was called upon he was sure to get a strong pair of hands behind Folarin Balogun’s shot and gather the danger.
Arsenal returned reenergised and brought the game to Chelsea. A home corner was swung in towards the head of Jonathan Dinzeyi who, with the goal at his mercy, headed wide of the target. It was a huge let off for Chelsea who needed to find rhythm again after the interval.
Later, Bryan Fiabema had the chance to finish a great move which started with a solid sliding tackle from Livramento in his own half. Lewis then picked up possession and drove forward unopposed. A threaded through-ball set Norwegian through on goal but he slammed his shot in to the side netting when aiming across goal looked the better option.
After a short spell of possession in Chelsea’s favour, Arsenal were back on top. Nelson tried his luck from 10 yards and Wady responded well, sticking out a long leg to deny the lively winger.
Chelsea’s lead was a slender one as we entered the latter stages of the game and the next goal would surely decide the tie. Myers changed his forward man in an attempt to make sure it went our way with Jude Soonsup-Bell replacing Fiabema.
The Gunners were always quick on the counter and strong defending from Sam McClelland and Sterling kept our hosts at arm’s length, but only until the 81st minute. Wady got a hand to the strike but a wicked deflection on Charlie Patino’s hit forced its way in to the back of the net for the equalising goal.
For the final chance of the game Chelsea were patient in working our way up the field. Dion Rankine picked out Lewis in the centre who had the chance to seal the win but couldn’t find the target as he lost his balance at the moment of contact and that saw the entertaining London derby end level.
In 10 days Myers takes his side to Derby County for battle, kick-off at the Loughborough University stadium is 7pm.
Chelsea 3-4-2-1 Ethan Wady; Levi Colwill (c), Sam McClelland, Dujon Sterling; George Nunn (Dion Rankine 62), George McEachran, Lewis Bate, Tino Livramento; Marcel Lewis, Thierno Ballo; Bryan Fiabema (Jude Soonsup-Bell 75)
Unused subs Jake Askew, Pierre Ekwah-Elimby
Booked Bate 47
Scorers Ballo 11, Lewis 32
Arsenal Karl Hein, Ryan Alebiosu, Jonathan Dinzeyi, Alex Kirk, Joel Lopez, Tim Akinola, Charlie Patino, Ben Cottrell, Nikolaj Moller, Reiss Nelson, Folarin Balogun (c)
Unused subs Tom Smith, Daniel Oyegoke, Mazeed Ogungbo, Catalin Cirjan, Taylor-Hart
Booked Alebiosu 30
Scorers Nelson 29, Patino 81