Chelsea suffered a heavy defeat to Arsenal at a rain-soaked Kingsmeadow as our development squad continue to look for our first Premier League 2 win of the season.
The Blues found ourselves on the back foot right from the start as Arsenal started the game at a high tempo and it took just six minutes for us to go behind, as Flo Balogun, a regular in the Gunner's first-team squad this season, went down under pressure from Sam McClelland in the box. He took the penalty himself and, despite Lucas Bergstrom doing well to save the spot kick, the rebound fell kindly for him to put the visitors ahead.
Balogun was at the centre of things as we fell further behind, first setting up Mika Biereth for a simple finish with a cross-field pass in behind our defence from deep, and then making it 3-0 almost immediately afterwards by firing into the bottom corner after we had given the ball away in a dangerous area.
It briefly looked like we were handed a way back into the game when Jude Soonsup-Bell burst into the penalty area with a strong run of his own, only to be brought down by Omar Rekik. The defender was shown the red card for his clear foul and denying a scoring opportunity as the last man, but much to the Chelsea players' frustration the referee also deemed the foul to have taken place outside the box, meaning a free-kick and not a penalty.
Things then went from bad to worse, too, as Biereth turned in from close range to put us four goals down with the last touch of the first half.
Andy Myers made three half-time subsitutions in an attempt to improve our performance after the break, but despite getting a foothold on possession we went further behind as Biereth completed a hat-trick by poking in from close range again and then a ricochet off a defender on a corner saw Bergstrom unlucky to have the ball bounce off him and in for an own goal.
The Chelsea fans at Kingsmeadow had to wait for something to cheer about, despite Joe Haigh having a back-post tap in ruled out for offisde and Soonsup-Bell hitting the crossbar from range. It was into second-half injury time that we hit the woodwork again, this time via Xavier Simons, but his fellow substitute Jayden Wareham was on hand to turn in the rebound for a late consolation goal.
Myers made five changes to his team following the away defeat at Manchester City. Lucas Bergstrom replaced Teddy Sharman-Lowe, while Xavier Mbuyamba came into the back three ahead of him. Charlie Webster was added in midfield with Silko Thomas on the right flank, as well as Joe Haigh joining the three-man attack.
Arsenal came out of the blocks fast, putting Chelsea under pressure and denying us time on the ball, making it difficult to settle and find a rhythm. That pressure paid off for the Gunners early on, as shortly after Flo Balogun had forced the first save of the game from Lucas Bergstrom, the same player went down in the box under pressure from Blues captain Sam McClelland.
The referee pointed to the spot and the Arsenal captain took the penalty himself. Bergstrom did well to save the spot kick low to his left, but the rebound spun up across goal and Balogun was able to fire into the roof of the net at the second attempt, with our goalkeeper helpless this time.
The visitors were still imposing a high tempo on the game after that opening goal, but we were starting to have some joy going forward ourselves, even if it was mostly on the counter-attack, particularly through the combination of Ben Elliott, Silko Thomas and Harvey Vale down the left side.
One of those attacks resulted in Vale getting in a position to run at the Arsenal defenders inside the box, before standing the ball up towards Joe Haigh in a central position, but he couldn’t get a clean contact on his volley.
Mountain to climb
However, the Gunners soon made it 2-0, with Balogun at the heart of the goal again. The striker picked the ball up out wide on the left and there seemed to be little danger, until he fired a pinpoint high pass all the away across to the back post behind the Chelsea defence, where Mika Biereth volleyed past a stranded Bergstom.
Less than two minutes later, Balogun had the ball in the net again with a goal Chelsea will be disappointed to concede. We lost possession with a loose pass in the middle of the pitch, allowing Balogun to get on the end of a through ball and fire into the bottom corner first-time.
The Blues hadn’t given up, though, with Jude Soonsup-Bell coming close to breaking free of the visiting defenders on a couple of occasions and then nearly dispossessing defender Omar Rekik on his own penalty spot as we attempted to fight back.
We came close to punishing our opponents for that piece of complacency in possession as well, with Elliott getting his head to the resulting corner and forcing the first save of the day from Arsenal goalkeeper Karl Hein, who didn’t look comfortable dealing with the powerful effort at his near post, but just about managed to scramble it behind.
As the rain started to pelt down at Kingsmeadow we were enjoying more possession and it briefly looked like Chelsea might have a penalty of our own with 10 minutes to go before half-time, as Soonsup-Bell was scythed down as he burst through Arsenal’s defensive line into the box.
However, the referee deemed the foul to have taken place just outside the box, despite the strong protestations from the Chelsea players, meaning it was just a free-kick, although Rekik was shown a red card as he was clearly the last man and denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.
Vale couldn’t beat the wall with the resulting free-kick and the Chelsea defenders would have been pleased to see Arsenal’s danger man Balogun leaving the field as they reshuffled after being reduced to 10 men. We instantly looked to make our new numerical advantage count before the break, with Soonsup-Bell having one placed shot which looked goal-bound well blocked and Haigh forcing the goalkeeper into action when getting on the end of a low ball across the six-yard box from Rankine.
We continued to pile the pressure on Arsenal, with Gunners defender Zane Monlouis nearly turning Thomas’ cross into his own net, but were caught on the counter in added time before the break, with Akinola getting free down the right and Biereth turning his low cross into the net from six yards with the last touch of the first half.
That left the Blues with a mammoth task to try and salvage something from the game and Myers responded by making three substitutions at half-time, with Xavier Simons, Lewis Hall and Jayden Wareham all coming on.
Arsenal briefly threatened while we settled following those changes, but we soon took control and Vale was agonisingly close to scoring with a fantastic shot from long range, which looked destined for the top corner but fizzed just over the bar.
It took a brilliant save from the goalkeeper to prevent Soonsup-Bell from scoring a minute later, as Hein somehow clawed the ball off the line as the striker slid to meet a low cross from Thomas. We weren’t having things all our own way, though, as shown when Bergstrom had to do well to save with his feet at the near post.
Elliott went close as he drove a shot through the crowded Arsenal penalty area, which was deflected behind for a corner, and Thomas forced a save with a powerful near-post shot, but we were struggling to make our increased possession count as the second half drew on.
When we did get the ball in the back of the net, it was only to see the linesman’s flag go up for offside, denying Haigh a goal after he had tapped in Thomas’ scooped cross at the back post, and seconds later we were hit on the counter again, with Biereth poking in a low cross from close range to complete his hat-trick for Arsenal.
We came close to a consolation with around 10 minutes left on the clock, as Soonsup-Bell struck the crossbar with a powerful effort from the edge of the box, but when the rebound fell to Vale, he couldn’t beat the goalkeeper at his near post.
There was more pain to come for the Blues, though, as Hall attempted to clear an Arsenal corner at the near post but sliced his volley, with the ball ricocheting off Bergstrom and into the back of the net. We did eventually get our consolation goal in injury time, when substitute Wareham turned in another rebound after Simons had hit the post with a powerful low strike on the turn, making the final score 6-1.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Lucas Bergstrom; Brodi Hughes (Xavier Simons h-t), Sam McClelland (c), Xavier Mbuyamba; Dion Rankine (Jayden Wareham h-t), Ben Elliot, Charlie Webster (Lewis Hall h-t), Silko Thomas; Joe Haigh, Harvey Vale; Jude Soonsup-Bell
Subs not used: Ted Curd, George Nunn
Scorer: Wareham 90+2
Booked: Webster 34, Soonsup-Bell 90+4
Arsenal (3-4-3): Karl Hein; Zane Monlouis, Omar Rekik, Mazeed Ogungbo; Ryan Aelbiosu, Salah Oulad M’Hand, Tim Akinola (James Olayinka 71), Joel Lopez; Charlie Patino; Flo Balogun (Reuell Walters 39), Mika Biereth (Omari Hutchinson 82)
Subs not used: Ovie Ejeheri, Kido Taylor-Hart
Scorers: Balogun (pen) 6, 23, Biereth 21, 45+3, 76, Bergstrom og 84
Sent off: Rekik 36
Booked: Akinola 66