By Isaac Moore at Emirates Stadium
Abou Diaby completed 45 minutes of action as Arsenal Under-21s were beaten by Chelsea at Emirates Stadium in their penultimate game of the season.
The Frenchman looked tidy in the early stages of the game before fading towards the end of the first half.
Hector Bellerin, playing as a right winger this evening, fired Arsenal in front on 32 minutes before Lewis Baker pulled Chelsea level just after the hour.
John Swift headed a late winner for Chelsea which, on the balance of play, was harsh on Arsenal.
SETTING THE SCENE
It was Diaby's first game for 402 days after suffering a cruciate ligament injury against Swansea City in March 2013. The Frenchman was joined by Carl Jenkinson, who made his second appearance of the season for the second string.
Chuba Akpom, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and Julio Pleguezuelo were the only survivors from the Youth Cup side that lost to Chelsea five days previously. Steve Gatting named arguably his strongest side of the season with under-21 regulars such as Jon Toral, Kris Olsson, Isaac Hayden and Matt Macey all returning.
Chelsea also made changes from the side that began Thursday's semi-final and knew a win tonight would ensure they entered the play-off stages as league winners.
Arsenal made a bright start to the game and their first opening fell to Diaby in the 12th minute when Ormonde-Ottewill's deep cross was only cleared as far as the Frenchman and his first-time effort went into Mitchell Beeney's arms.
Baker sent a free-kick high and wide for Chelsea midway through the first half before Macey was forced to tip behind a rasping drive from Reece Mitchell.
The Gunners took the lead on 32 minutes when Hayden's perfectly-weighted pass sent Bellerin through on goal and the Spaniard finished calmly beyond Beeney.
Arsenal came sweeping forward again in the 42nd minute and Bellerin was involved again. This time he was found by a slide-rule pass from Olsson before squaring to Akpom, who was bought down by Ola Aina on the edge of the box. Jenkinson sent the resulting free-kick straight at Beeney.
Diaby and Pleguezuelo were replaced at half-time by Zachari Ansah and Ainsely Maitland-Niles and Chelsea began the second half the stronger.
Isak Ssewankambo dragged a shot wide before flashing a drive into the side-netting.
The visitors continued to pile on the pressure and went close to equalising in the 63rd minute when Alex Kiwomya's shot was deflected behind with Macey left stranded.
The Blues deservedly got back on terms five minutes later when Baker's exquisite back-heel from Sswankamnbo's cross flashed past Macey at the near post.
Toral lifted a free-kick over as Arsenal tried to reassert themselves in the final 15 minutes. Hayden came so close to winning the game for Arsenal when he drove into the Chelsea box before his deflected effort looped over Beeney and hit the crossbar. Ansah shot wide seconds later.
Chelsea's winner came with four minutes remaining. The Gunners were caught cold as Baker's quick free-kick was glanced home by Swift.
- Pleguezuelo 46
- Diaby 46
- Hayden 89
- Bellerin Goal!
- Zelalem 89
- Maitland-Niles 46
- Ansah 46
- Beeney Yellow Card
- Aina Yellow Card
- Loftus-Cheek 46
- Kiwomya 71
- Swift Goal!
- Baker Goal!
- Mitchell 55
- Bradley Collins
- Feruz 55
- Kasey Palmer 46
- Charly Musonda 71