By Max Jones at Leigh Sports Village
Arsenal Under-21s were held to a goalless draw by Blackburn Rovers at Leigh Sports Village on Monday night.
It was a frustrating result for the young Gunners who had showcased their creativity but failed to deliver on the final ball.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles dictated Arsenal’s attacks throughout but it was Gedion Zelalem who went closest, wrapping his shot against the post from close range.
Blackburn had a similar opportunity to take the lead when Devarn Green stole through and slammed his shot against the frame of the goal, but the game fizzled out as the sides had to settle for a repeat of October’s corresponding scoreline.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made six changes to the side that lost 1-0 against Derby County at iPro Stadium.
Returning loanees Matt Macey and Jack Jebb started in place of Deyan Iliev and the injured Dan Crowley, while Renny Smith’s inclusion at right back saw Glen Kamara move back to holding midfield in Krystian Bielik’s absence.
Semi Ajayi also returned for his first under-21s start since the 2-2 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers in favour of George Dobson. Marc Bola and Stephy Mavididi completed the young Gunners’ changes.
Arsenal were looking to bounce back from the previous week’s defeat but would face a tough test against a resolute defence who shut out Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry when they returned at Meadow Park in October.
Gatting blamed the Derby defeat on a lack of penetration after his side only mustered two shots, but they more than made up for that in a dominant first-half showing.
First Maitland-Niles raced into the box to connect with a low cross but David Raya responded well, parrying as far as Zelalem who crashed the rebound off the post.
Then Blackburn failed to clear Jebb’s driven corner and Maitland-Niles sent a loose bouncing ball flying over the crossbar from six yards.
The midfielder was at the heart of every Arsenal attacks and dragged another shot wide before Raya’s reactions were tested again, this time by Mavididi after the striker had latched onto Alex Iwobi’s cushioned pass.
Gatting’s side were nearly made to pay for their missed chances immediately after the break. Dean Rittenberg raced onto Ajayi’s loose backpass and curled just wide of the far post from 18 yards.
The Gunners soon threatened back though and Zelalem was unlucky to see his rising drive hit the side netting following a fine solo run by Iwobi.
But it was Blackburn who came closest to breaking the deadlock. Ajayi failed to deal with a clearance, allowing Green to steal the ball and rattle a low strike off the frame of the goal.
The hosts threw bodies forward for a final corner towards the end of the clash but, after a series of deflections, David Carson’s half-volley flew harmlessly wide of Macey’s goal.
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