Arsenal Reserves salvaged some pride after a narrow 2-1 defeat by North London rivals Spurs at Leyton Orient’s Matchwood Stadium this evening.
Having been humiliated by Spurs in a 3-0 defeat at Underhill just five days earlier, the young Gunners could have been forgiven for fearing the worst when David Bentley, who began his career at Highbury, opened the scoring with a superb volley. The England international winger then doubled the advantage in the second-half with another jaw-dropping effort but Sanchez Watt gave the Gunners a glimmer of hope after latching onto Gilles Sunu’s cross to score Arsenal Reserves’ first goal since January 21st.
Banfield made three changes from the side which started last Thusday, with Wojciech Szczesny, who was an un-used sub for the first team against Wigan on Saturday, relegating James Shea to the bench. Elsewhere, French duo Francis Coquelin and Gilles Sunu came in for Fran Mérida and Amaury Bischoff. Sunu took up his position on the left-wing, with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas operating in the second-striker role behind the hard-working Sanchez Watt.
Spurs included a whole host of familiar names, such as Pascal Chimbonda, Gareth Bale, Frazier Campbell and former Arsenal players Jamie O’Hara and David Bentley.
Prior to the game a minute’s silence was impeccably observed for former Spurs player Jimmy Neighbour who passed away recently.
After five minutes of intense sparring, it was Spurs who created the first clear-cut chance when Alan Hutton crossed for Chimbonda, whose header caused no problems for the alert Szczesny.
Arsenal’s first attack came eight minutes later when a neat passing move culminated in right-back Craig Eastmond lashing a speculative effort well wide.
Both sides then had further chances, with Frimpong drilling a powerful shot straight at Ben Alnwick in the Spurs goal, whilst at the other end Frazier Campbell hit a shot over.
Soon after, Arsenal came close again after Mark Randall capitalised on a mistake by Chimbonda and fed Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who in turn found Watt but the lone striker couldn’t capitalise.
Tottenham were still threatening, howver, and Jake Livermore, scorer of the third goal last week, hit narrowly over.
It was to be the hosts who took the lead when Bale skipped past Eastmond and Bartley with ease before whipping in a teasing cross which fell to Bentley who hit a spectacular first-time volley past Szczesny.
Szczesny was thanked by his defenders for denying Spurs the chance to extend their lead soon after, when he saved well from Bale from close range.
Szczesny was called into action once more when Bartley passed the ball straight to O’Hara who drilled a fierce effort at the Polish ‘keeper.
Frimpong and Randall hit shots over, but it was Spurs who went into the break the happier side.
Straight after the break, Szczesny made another superb save, this time from a Chimbonda header after a Bentley corner.
Emmanuel-Thomas hit a powerful drive wide in a rare Arsenal break, but Spurs were piling on the pressure, with Bentley coming close from a free-kick from a similar range to Gilberto and Ryan Mason’s last week.
Gareth Bale caused a scare when he struck the post from a free-kick and then hit the side-netting with the rebound.
Just two minutes later, he battered the same post again after shrugging off Eastmond and Ayling with ease.
Spurs eventually did double their lead on 68 minutes and it was another piece of magic from Bentley, this time catching Szczesny out with a superb shot. He seems to be developing a habit of scoring spectacular goals against his former club.
Whilst lesser sides would have wilted and died at 2-0 down, Arsenal’s response was instant. Sunu burst down the right-flank and crossed for Watt who slid home for the Reserves’ first goal since January 21st.
With that a huge weight was lifted off the younh Gunners shoulders as they pushed for a winner.
They still had to be alert at the other end, however, with Szczesny denying Maghoma.
Emmanuel-Thomas, who was impressive throughout, almost levelled after showing fantastic skill to leave Hutton for dead and subsequently skip past the grounded Rocha, but couldn’t find the finish to match the equisite build-up.
Arsenal introduced Cedric Evina eight minutes from time in place of Kyle Bartley, who picked up a slight knee injury, and was withdrawn as a precaution with next week’s FA Youth Cup tie with Manchester City in mind.
With the clock ticking down towards full time, Szczesny’s work for the night was far from over. He did well to save from Campbell and then Bale in quick succession and then he denied Maghoma once more in the dying moments.
So another defeat for Banfield’s boys, who are still awaiting their first win in 2009, but the goal will leave them full of confidence ahead of the final two games of the season, back-to-back fixtures against West Brom.
PLAYER RATINGS (average:6.1 )
Made some absolutely superb saves to keep Arsenal in it at times and couldn’t really do anything about the goals.
Adopted his usual rugged, no-nonsense approach, but was caught out far too often by Bale.
Solid in the air on occasions, but, like Eastmond, was given the run-around by Bale.
Teamed up well with Bartley and has not let last week’s mistake affect him in a negative way.
Once more he was exploited far too easily, but attempted to stand his ground.
A much improved performance. His passing was more accurate but he must learn not to neglect his defensive duties.
A quiet game but came to life after the goal.
Another impressive performance but needs to work on his shooting accuracy.
Had a quiet game but must be credited for his assist.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas-8-JB’S MAN OF THE MATCH
Revelled ‘in the hole’ and was equally effective out on the left, creating some fantastic opportunities and perhaps should have scored.
Worked hard up front and finally got his reward.
Cedric Evina-6 (for Kyle Bartley, 82)
Got forward well and delivered one glorious cross.
Benik Afobe-5 (for Gilles Sunu, 85)
Didn’t touch the ball.
Luke Freeman-5 (for Sanchez Watt 85)
One reckless challenge.