By Lloyd Webb at London Colney

Summary

Mikel Arteta stepped up his return to full fitness by playing 45 minutes as the under-21s beat Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday afternoon.

The Arsenal captain has not featured for the first team since November, but played the first half at London Colney before being replaced at the interval.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide gave the Gunners the lead when he capitalised on a loose ball in the area to fire home after six minutes.

Steve Gatting’s side were on top throughout the first half and were unlucky to not have a more comfortable lead at the break.

However, they scored twice in four minutes shortly after the restart as both Donyell Malen and Reine-Adelaide hit the target.

Lewis Mansell scored twice for Blackburn to set up a tense finish but the Gunners held on for their first win of 2016.

Setting the Scene

Steve Gatting made seven changes to his side following their defeat to Aston Villa before Christmas.

Arteta started in midfield alongside Alex Iwobi, who recently came on as a substitute for the first team during their 2-0 win against Bournemouth.

Elsewhere, Chris Willock, Ben Sheaf, Tyrell Robinson, Reine-Adelaide and Malen all returned to the starting XI.

First half

The Gunners started the game at a breakneck speed and it paid off when they took the lead through Reine-Adelaide.

Julio Pleguezuelo almost doubled the hosts’ advantage when his header crashed against the post minutes later.

Reine-Adelaide’s clever flick then created space for Arteta to fire at goal but he was denied by a good save from Ryan Crump.

More flowing football led to a chance for Iwobi but the midfielder curled his effort wide.

The visitors came close to equalising before the break when Dean Rittenberg rattled the post.

Second half

The second half started at the same tempo for Arsenal and they were rewarded when Reine-Adelaide’s shot was saved by Crump, who pushed the ball into Malen’s path and he made no mistake from a few yards out.

It took the hosts just four minutes to hit the target again as Malen turned provider for Reine-Adelaide, who rolled the ball into the bottom corner.

Mansell pulled one back for the visitors when he poked the ball past Ryan Huddart shortly after the hour mark.

The striker was on target again when he raced through on goal and produced a composed finish to set up a grandstand finish.

But the Gunners managed to hold on to their lead to move level on points with Derby County at the top of Division Two.

Arsenal U21

1
Huddart
2
Robinson
3
Pleguezuelo
4
Reine Adelaide 71 Goal! Goal!
5
Iwobi 79
6
Crowley
7
Sheaf
8
Willock
9
Bielik
10
Malen Goal!
11
Arteta 46

Substitutes

12
Keto
13
Moore 71
14
Mavididi 79
15
Bola
16
Bennacer 46

Blackburn Rovers U21

1
Ryan Crump
2
Willem Tomlinson
3
Green
4
Nyambe
5
Thomson
6
Sam Lavelle
7
Joseph Rankin-Costello Yellow Card
8
David Carson
9
Rittenberg 63
10
Scott Wharton
11
Lewis Mansell Goal! Goal!

Substitutes

12
Charley Doyle
13
Andrew Fisher
14
Cham
15
Sam Joel 63
16
Hyuga Tanner
Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source
5 Jan 2016