By Max Jones at Meadow Park
Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry made their much-anticipated returns from injury as Arsenal Under-21s were held to a 0-0 draw by Blackburn Rovers on Friday.The forwards had not played in nine and six months respectively, so a competitive encounter served as the next step in their rehabilitation programmes.Walcott was taken off at the interval but he, and Arsene Wenger, would have been pleased with his 45-minute showing at Meadow Park.Gnabry soon followed him off just before the hour mark, after which Dan Crowley stepped into the limelight and rattled the crossbar with a fierce free-kick near the end of a closely-fought contest.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made six changes to the side that lost to Newcastle United last time out, but it was the names of Walcott and Gnabry that really caught the eye at a packed Meadow Park.Elsewhere, Ryan Huddart, Semi Ajayi, Abou Diaby and Chuba Akpom replacedMatt Macey, George Dobson, Glen Kamara and Kaylen Hinds.The young Gunners were looking to bounce back from the Newcastle defeat but a perfect evening would be to get Walcott and Gnabry through the game unscathed.
Walcott and Gnabry made an instant impression upon their long-awaited returns. While their match fitness may still need building up, there was nothing wrong with their sharpness as they exploded past defenders in the opening exchanges.Diaby, securing more valuable minutes, dictated the game and created the first chance when he combined with Crowley to find Walcott, who shot wide from inside the box.The England international was the centre of attention but Crowley, eight years his junior, has never been one to be shown up.
The playmaker danced through Blackburn's defence just before the break but couldn't produce the final touch as he neared the goal.
Walcott was withdrawn at half-time but Gnabry continued to buzz around the final third and combined well with Diaby before being substituted just before the hour mark.Arsenal still dominated possession in their absence but struggled to fashion clear-cut chances against a well-disciplined Blackburn side. Akpom did get the ball in the net, only to see the linesman's flag raised for offside.The Gunners did test Ryan Crump in the Rovers goal. Ainsley Maitland-Niles' shot wassmothered before Crowley stung the goalkeeper's palms. Then Crump tipped the midfielder's free kick on to the crossbar with five minutes left.It was an evening of mixed emotions for Arsenal who would have been disappointed not to have won, but delighted that Walcott and Gnabry left the pitch unscathed after successful comebacks.
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