By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal Under-21s’ impressive start to the new season continued apace on Saturday as they eased to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Blackburn at Emirates Stadium.
Sanchez Watt gave them the lead in the 14th minute, and Terry Burton’s side did not look back for the rest of a one-sided game.
After carving out a host of chances in the first half, they had to wait until seconds before the interval to double their advantage as Thomas Eisfeld converted from close range.
Conor Henderson added a third midway through the second half with a deflected drive to put the seal on another accomplished performance in front of more than 5,600 fans in north London.
Despite the impressive nature of their 3-1 victory over Bolton on the opening day of the season, Burton rang the changes for this match - possibly with Wednesday’s first NextGen Series fixture in mind.
With Damian Martinez suspended, James Shea was handed a chance to further his credentials after impressing against Bolton. Meanwhile, there was a surprise inclusion as Arsenal goalkeeping coach Tony Roberts was named on the bench, just three weeks after celebrating his 43rd birthday.
Elsewhere, Chuks Aneke - who scored against a Malaysia XI on the Club’s summer tour of the Far East - came into midfield, while Martin Angha bolstered a backline that also contained Daniel Boateng.
The visitors, meanwhile, only included two members of the side from that game in their line-up at Emirates Stadium, goalkeeper Matthew Urwin and Josh Morris.
After a low-key opening, the game sprang to life as Arsenal’s patient build-up play was rewarded with the opening goal.
Watt, who scored the only goal of the game against Blackburn in September, once again proved to be key man as he raced on to Aneke’s delightful through ball and slotted it under the onrushing Urwin with aplomb.
From that point on, Arsenal took total control. Soon afterwards the impressive Chuba Akpom found some space to the left of the box and unleashed a fierce drive that Urwin could only parry away. The ball dropped to the onrushing Aneke, but his effort flew just wide.
Arsenal’s waves of attack kept on building and Blackburn were struggling to keep the hosts from extending the scoreline. Just before the half-hour mark Aneke’s free kick was deflected just over by the head of a defender, before Craig Eastmond fired wide from the resulting corner.
Then, in the 39th minute, Eastmond found Watt in the area with a neat pass and the striker’s shot was palmed away by Urwin - but straight to the feet of Aneke. The midfielder seemed destined to double the Gunners’ advantage but his fierce goalbound effort was somehow headed over brilliantly by the backpeddling Raheem Hanley.
A second goal only seemed a matter of time, and seconds before half time it arrived from a familiar source, Eisfeld. But it owed much to Angha, who found space down the right and sent in a skidding cross that the German midfielder swept home for his second goal in as many games.
The second half started in much the same vein as the first had ended, but Arsenal had to wait until the 64th minute for their next chance. It came after a Blackburn defensive error gifted the ball to Kyle Ebecilio, but the substitute blasted well over the bar from the edge of the area.
It proved to be a much quieter half than the first, with Arsenal’s two-goal advantage meaning they never really needed to move out of second gear. They remained on the front foot, but chances proved much harder to come by.
But they did manage to extend their lead in the 73rd minute as Henderson’s drive from outside the box hit Peter Wylie and flew past the helpless Urwin. There was an element of luck about the goal, but it was no more than the dominant Gunners deserved.
It proved more than enough for Arsenal’s Under-21s, who will be delighted with a superb start to the new campaign.