By Joe Brewin at London Colney
Arsenal Under-18s succumbed to only their second defeat of 2012 with a 3-2 reverse against Chelsea at London Colney.
Josh Rees and Jordan Wynter had twice given Steve Bould’s youngsters the lead in the first half, but a Chelsea comeback after the break condemned the hosts to defeat.
Arsenal had their chances throughout this entertaining game but ultimately could not make them count against their west London rivals.
Bould included the returning Benik Afobe among the substitutes after the striker completed an hour for Neil Banfield’s reserves earlier in the week.
Reice Charles-Cook was injured in the warm-up, so Sean McDermott started between the posts. Reserves regular Martin Angha partnered Elton Monteiro at the heart of defence, with Zak Ansah and Kyle Ebecilio also handed starting roles.
Arsenal began brightly and should have taken the lead inside two minutes. Rees’ neat ball through the middle found Philip Roberts, who rounded Jamal Blackman before firing over with the goal at his mercy.
Blackman was on hand to deny Roberts just moments later after good work from Anthony Jeffrey down the left.
Bould’s side had dominated the opening exchanges and their pressure was eventually rewarded in the eighth minute. Roberts’ attempted pass was deflected into the path of Rees, who made no mistake finding the target for his fifth goal in as many matches.
Chelsea lacked conviction going forward as they hunted an equaliser, with McDermott rarely tested. Arsenal had defended well, however, with Angha particularly impressing at the heart of defence.
But the young Gunners themselves struggled to test Blackman as the half wore on, going closest through Ansah’s curling free-kick over the crossbar.
Against the run of play, Chelsea grabbed an equaliser. Winger Amin Affane drove forward through the heart of Arsenal's midfield before driving a fierce piledriver past McDermott.
The goal spurred the visitors on and it could have been two soon after. Lewis Baker’s deflected strike inside the area was awkward, calling McDermott into an excellent save.
Ebecilio saw a goal chalked off for offside with time running out in the first period, but Arsenal did restore their advantage just before the break.
A neat move saw the ball worked wide to Roberts, who cut the ball back for Wynter to finish off for his second goal in as many matches.
The first half had seen Arsenal defend well against the visitors and the half-time lead certainly did not flatter Bould’s youngsters. The second half, however, was a different story.
The young Gunners continued in a similar vein after the restart and went close through Rees early on after good work from Ansah.
With a new half came a new approach for Chelsea and it was not long before their more direct style began to cause issues for Arsenal’s backline. Angha and Monteiro were troubled aerially on numerous occasions and eventually the visitors’ pressure told.
A lofted cross to the back post found Affane in acres of space and the winger’s scuffed finish bounced over a helpless McDermott. Bould would not have been happy with the defending.
Afobe replaced Roberts with 25 minutes remaining and the striker was involved within minutes as he dragged an effort narrowly wide on the angle.
Both sides were pushing for a winner as the game drew to its conclusion, with Ebecilio’s dipping volley dropping just over the crossbar. Ansah forced a smart block from Nathan Ake as Chelsea stood firm.
Then, with just five minutes remaining, the Blues grabbed a late winner. Patrick Bamford, recently signed from Nottingham Forest, battled past two Arsenal defenders before rounding McDermott and finishing.
Despite Arsenal’s best efforts, Chelsea hung on for the narrowest of victories.
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