By Nik Brumsack at Leigh Sports Village Stadium
Arsenal Under-21s stretched their unbeaten run to three games after earning a hard-fought draw against Blackburn Rovers on Monday night.
After having the better of the first half, Terry Burton’s side were indebted to a wonder save by Reice Charles-Cook to earn them a point on a night where a draw was probably the fair result.
The Gunners went into the game hoping for a third straight win, after triumphing over Reading and Everton in recent weeks.
Burton had been able to draw on first-team players including Bacary Sagna, Andre Santos, Emmanuel Frimpong and Jack Wilshere for those games - though none were included at Leigh Sports Village, perhaps with Tuesday’s Capital One Cup tie at Reading in mind.
In fact, Sead Hajrovic, Nigel Neita and Kris Olsson were the only survivors from the team that beat Everton last time out.
Arsenal started brightly and, after Jon Toral had twice tested Jake Kean in the opening stages, nearly took the lead when a misplaced pass by Curtis Haley created an opening for Nigel Neita. The striker sprinted towards goal before dragging a left-footed effort narrowly off target.
Burton’s team were controlling possession early on, with Toral and Olsson particularly impressive on the ball.
The pair were heavily involved in creating the next opportunity, as Olsson’s disguised pass released Toral. The Spaniard’s cross from the left was fired wide by the onrushing Martin Angha.
Blackburn were slowly beginning to grow into the game, though it took until midway through the first half before they threatened.
Jamie MacLaren and Haley combined well down the Blackburn right, though Zac Fagan was aware to block Haley’s eventual shot. Just a minute later, Kellen Daly could only head straight at Reice Charles-Cook from 12 yards out.
Olsson was continuing to impress, and he was presented with the best chance of the half after 33 minutes.
Angha charged down the right before swinging in a cross that was deflected invitingly into the midfielder’s path. But, despite being well-placed, Olsson could only skew his shot wide of Kean’s goal.
In a similar fashion to the first half, it was Arsenal who began the second period strongly and, after combining with Alfred Mugabo, Neita cut the ball back to Josh Rees, whose shot from eight yards was well kept out by Kean.
Blackburn fought back instantly though, and twice went close to taking the lead.
First, Angha headed Adam Henley’s cross narrowly over his own bar. Then, after cutting inside half-time substitute Leander Siemann, O’Sullivan’s fierce effort was superbly touched wide by Charles-Cook.
The hosts were now in the ascendancy, driving Arsenal back deeper and deeper. For all their pressure though, Charles-Cook was only tested once, tipping MacLaren’s powerful drive over the bar.
And after soaking up that pressure, Burton’s team twice came close to nicking a win in stoppage time. Neita’s cross was just about cut out in front of Olsson, before the striker stung Kean’s palms from just outside the area.
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