By Nik Brumsack at Leigh Sports Village
Arsenal Under-21s earned their first three points of the season with an accomplished 3-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Leigh Sports Village on Friday night.
First-half Oluwasemilogo Ajayi and Daniel Boateng goals put Steve Gatting’s side in control before Chuba Akpom finished the game as a contest just after the break.
Having gone three goals ahead, the young Gunners maneuvered the ball efficiently and intelligently throughout the second half as the hosts tried in vain to get a hold on proceedings.
This was a display that will have delighted Gatting. Arsenal were clinical, solid at the back and outpassed their opponents for large periods.
After a tough pre-season, the under-21s have started the campaign extremely positively and, if they can maintain their current level of performance, are on track for success.
Gatting made three changes from the side that began the 2013/14 campaign with a well-earned point at Stoke last time out.
Isaac Hayden and Ajayi started in central defence, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles also recalled.
In fact, Hayden and Kris Olsson were the only two survivors from the team that drew 0-0 here in October 2012.
That encounter had been high on endeavour but low on chances.
This one started in similar vein, albeit with Arsenal shading the opening exchanges.
Thomas Eisfeld blazed over from close range while Maitland-Niles saw a shot deflected wide for a corner.
The only other real moment of note in the first 15 minutes was a late tackle on Akpom, which saw home centre back Anthony O’Connor shown a yellow card.
Blackburn were certainly providing a physical test but it was one that, led by the industrious Glen Kamara, Arsenal stood up to with ease.
They took the lead after 18 minutes. Olsson took a short corner and, after receiving the ball back from Eisfeld, whipped in a cross which was flicked on for Ajayi to volley home at the back post.
Blackburn initially responded well, with Deyan Iliev required to tip Hugo Molina’s shot around the post. But the pressure was not maintained and soon enough, the play returned to the other end.
Hayden and Boateng had both gone close before the latter extended the advantage after 36 minutes, rising highest at the back post to emphatically head in another Olsson cross.
Arsenal continued to dominate and could have gone further in front before the half was out.
First, David Raya’s clearance was charged down by Akpom, though the ball flew just over the bar to spare the goalkeeper’s blushes. Then, on the stroke of the break, Maitland-Niles sent an arrowing effort narrowly over.
Arsenal had started the second half well at Stoke and they flew out of the blocks here too. Like in Cheshire, they were rewarded with an early goal.
The impressive Akpom scored it, tidily exchanging passes with Maitland-Niles before opening his body up to clinically dispatch the ball beyond Raya.
Blackburn tried to push forward but, in truth, never posed a significant threat to Iliev’s goal. In fact, the goalkeeper was a near spectator during the second half.
Despite leading 3-0, Arsenal continued to push forward, with the majority of play taking place inside the hosts’ half.
For all their neat play, they were denied a fourth goal by an inability to find the final pass.
Still, they looked the more likely throughout and Hayden almost put a gloss on the result late on, but after marauding forward, his attempt to connect with Siemann’s cross was prevented by a last-ditch tackle.
The first two long trips up north of the season have returned a healthy four points.
Next up for the under-21s is a tough-looking clash against West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium - on this showing, they won’t look out of place there.
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