The Arsenal academy have had some great results against Chelsea this season. The u23s won 6-1 away from home earlier in the campaign, the u21s won 4-1 in the EFL Trophy, and the u18s won 4-0 in January.
Kevin Betsy lead the team to the aforementioned 6-1 and 4-1 wins, and he was looking to make it three in a row on Friday night.
Arsenal had Miguel Azeez back in the team after his loan spell to Portsmouth, and Hubert Graczyk in goal for the first time since August, but they also had some absentees.
Folarin Balogun scored twice in the 6-1 win in September, but he’s now on loan, as are fellow starters Karl Hein, Tim Akinola, and Ryan Alebiosu.
Charlie Patino and Omar Rekik also started that last league game against Chelsea, but both were absent from the squad this time. So that’s over half the team gone.
Arsenal got off to a shaky start, making a number of errors in possession, and Chelsea eventually took advantage in the 15th minute when Jayden Wareham converted a Xavier Simons cross from close range.
The Gunners were somewhat fortunate to find themselves level a few minutes later, as Zach Awe headed home a nice Zak Swanson cross to equalise.
There was nothing lucky about the goal, but it didn’t reflect how the game had been going. Other than Omari Hutchinson, who looked bright, Arsenal just hadn’t got up to the pace of the game.
Chelsea continued to have the better chances, and Graczyk had to make a number of good saves to keep things level.
Mika Biereth then arguably went the closest of either side to extending the lead as he spun on a shot in the box, which rolled agonisingly wide.
At half-time, there wasn’t a sense that Chelsea were dominating the game, but they’d certainly looked the more likely to score.
The away side really should have scored in the early stages of the second half, missing one of the sitters of the season with an open net from barely yards out. Not long after that, Arsenal punished their wastefulness.
Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand wasn’t necessarily having his best game, but he had one of the moments of the match to give Arsenal the lead.
Picking up the ball from Azeez, Salah-Eddine spun a Chelsea defender before firing a shot in from the edge of the box.
Suddenly, Arsenal were having all the chances, and Salah-Eddine, Biereth, and Azeez all could have scored from decent opportunities. Azeez got in on the goalkeeper a couple of times, but the offside flag and a slightly heavy touch let Chelsea off.
With the game moving into injury time, Hutchinson capped off another bright display with the goal of the game.
Picking up the ball in his own half, he dribbled past three Chelsea players to score from range and give Swanson the easiest assist of his life – his second of the game.
Another angle of Hutchinson’s goal. Look where he picks it up. pic.twitter.com/xk7T4bs2Xy
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) February 4, 2022
Chelsea actually had another great chance to pull one back after that, but again they failed to convert from close range and it finished 3-1.
The title race is still just about alive for Arsenal, though they’re still four points off league leaders Manchester City and as many as six points off West Ham United if the Hammers win their game in hand.
The team remain pretty leaky at the back, as the only team in the top four to concede more than 27 goals (they’ve conceded 34). On the other hand, they’re also the top-scoring side in the division.
Loanee Folarin Balogun is a big reason for that, but Omari Hutchinson, Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand, and Mika Biereth are all racking up the goal contributions as well – with 13, 10, and 18 respectively.
Hutchinson seems to score another spectacular goal every few weeks, and it’s no surprise he’s been involved in the first-team squad lately.
This first full season at u23 level is already looking like his last, as he’ll surely go on loan if Arsenal have no first-team plans for him next season.
Arsenal u23 lineup vs Chelsea
Graczyk, Awe, Kirk, Swanson, Walters, Henry-Francis, Azeez, Ogungbo, S. Oulad M’hand, Hutchinson, Biereth
Hillson, Lopez, Flores, Butler-Oyedeji, Ideho
The u23s next play what could be a huge game for their Premier League Cup hopes, taking on group leaders West Bromwich Albion away from home on Monday, February 14th at 14:00 GMT.
A win would see them top the group, a draw might not even be enough to qualify for the knockout stages in second place.
It all depends on the result of the Bournemouth-Southampton game a few days earlier.
If Bournemouth win that game, it’s going to be win or go home for Arsenal. If Southampton win or it ends in a draw, then Arsenal only need to avoid a three or four-goal defeat. So all eyes are on that South Coast derby on February 11th.