Arsenal’s U23 squad traveled up to the New Bucks Head Ground Friday evening to take on the Wolverhampton Wanders U23s in the Premier League 2. The Gunners entered the match tied atop the PL2 table with Chelsea and unbeaten in their first five matches - three wins and two draws.
Friday’s match however became much more interesting on Thursday when Unai Emery announced that Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney would be starting for the U23s. It was an entertaining 2-2 draw, but had a lot of important facets for the future beyond just the scoreline.
- Hector Bellerin - After 250+ days Arsenal’s right back was finally in the red and white once again. Bellerin went 63 minutes and looked the most in form of the three senior defenders. Given the seriousness of his injury compared to Mavropanos’ and Tierney coming in this summer, Bellerin had been thought of as the farthest away from a senior team return. Hector displayed leadership, his typical attacking flair and defensive composure. Another appearance or two for the U23s and Bellerin should finally be lining up in front of Bernd Leno and helping raise the level of Arsenal’s defense.
- Kieran Tierney - Arsenal chased the Celtic left-back for nearly the entire summer transfer window before securing the deal for £24m. With Nacho Monreal moving on, the club had Sead Kolasinac as the only fit left-back this past week. Friday offered Arsenal fans their first glimpse of the player many hope is the future of the position. A mirror on the defense for Hector Bellerin for the next 5+ years. Tierney looked about how you would expect for someone who has been out all summer, transferred clubs, and is adjusting to playing with new teammates. He went 63 minutes linking up with Mavro on the left side of the defense and looks to be just a few weeks away from starting for the first team.
- Konstantinos Mavropanos - The last of the senior team centerbacks to return to full fitness, Dino went the full 90 for the first time this season. After playing his first minutes against Leicester City U23s last week (67 minutes), Mavropanos looks fully fit and should be in contention for a spot in the 18 for the Carabao Cup on Thursday.
@FBalogun67’s season so far...— Arsenal Academy (@ArsenalAcademy) September 20, 2019
A seamless transition to #AFCU23 pic.twitter.com/DFd2VZ00ZB
- Florian Balogun - While WolvesTV likely gained a lot of new subscribers on Friday to watch the likes of Bellerin and Tierney, Balogun stole the show. He quickly slipped in the games first goal in the opening minute and gave Arsenal the lead once again in the 69th. That is now six goals in six appearances for the Arsenal U23s. Balogun was dangerous throughout the match having several other shots on target and pressuring the Wolves backline. Florian has quickly taken advantage of being the U23s number one striker with Eddie Nketiah off on loan and Gabriel Martinelli remaining as a fringe first team player at the moment.
- Wolves Academy - After winning the development league’s second division last season, the Wolves U23s clearly don’t look out of place in the Premier League 2. Bruno Jordao scored, created several chances, and should be a name you see for Wolves in the Premier League within the next year or two. While in general the hosts looked in the match throughout the night, Dion Sanderson was another standout talent. The towering centerback not only looks the part but was clinical much of the night dealing with the dangerous Balogun and Tyreece John Jules as he pressed forward.
The Arsenal U23s return to action next weekend hosting the Liverpool U23s. We could see a similar squad, with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka likely getting called up again for next Thursday’s match against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup.