Going into the weekend’s u23 clash on the back of seven Premier League 2 matches without a win, it was perhaps no surprise to see Arsenal going behind in the first half against Everton.
The young Gunners pressed well in the opening 45 minutes, but they only had a few half-chances falling to Folarin Balogun and Trae Coyle. When Everton’s Nathan Broadhead had a chance of his own, he made no mistake giving his side a 1-0 lead.
Things opened up a bit in the second half, and Balogun and Coyle had further chances to get themselves on the scoresheet. They also both had penalty claims waved away, as Arsenal pushed for a deserved equaliser.
Balogun had been on a barren run before this game. After his hat-trick against Brighton two months ago, he blanked in his next three games, then missed the next three through injury, then returned in a 3-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
The u23s desperately needed their star striker and club captain to perform on this occasion, and he did.
After going close with a number of attempts, Balogun picked up the ball in midfield and drove at the Everton defence before curling a shot into the corner from outside the area. It was an excellent strike and no less than his performance warranted on the day.
With only injury time remaining, Tolaji Bola halted a counter-attack with a foul – picking up a booking – and Everton’s Tyler Onyango picked up a second yellow for his reaction to the challenge.
There was too little time remaining for Arsenal to take advantage of the extra man, and Everton almost scored from the resulting free-kick, but Tom Smith made a strong save.
The match ended 1-1, leaving the u23s 10th in the table. They’re four points clear of Leicester City and five clear of Southampton, the two teams between them and the relegation zone, but both sides have a game in hand.
Arsenal have four games left to play, facing 4th-place Derby County, 11th-place Leicester City, and bottom-of-the-table West Ham United twice, due to an earlier postponement.
A couple of wins should be enough to ensure their safety in the division, but it’s going down to the wire.