Stevenage 0 Arsenal 0
By Jeorge Bird @ The Lamex Stadium.
Arsenal’s Reserves continued their pre-season preparations with a goalless draw away to Stevenage at the Lamex Stadium this afternoon, although the two sides did not conjure up the most entertaining affair in Hertfordshire as both teams struggled to impose themselves on the game.
Coach Terry Burton was able to call upon Serge Gnabry for the first time, with the German youngster fit again following an injury sustained late last season, with James Shea and Daniel Boateng also coming into the side. Chuba Akpom, meanwhile, started up front at the expense of the comparatively experienced Sanchez Watt.
subs: Monteiro (for Boateng, 46), Bellerin (for Angha, 46), Watt (for Gnabry, 46), Hayden (for Hajrovic, 46), Ormonde-Ottewill (for Rees, 46), Neita (for Olsson, 62), Jeffrey (for Meade, 72), Roberts (for Akpom, 77). Not used: Charles-Cook, Bihmoutine.
Stevenage included former Gunners Luke Freeman and James Dunne in their line-up, neither of whom made a competitive first-team outing for the Gunners, and it was the hosts who were the most dangerous side early on, drilling an effort wide before Freeman got in behind the Arsenal defence but couldn’t find the finish to match his sharp movement.
A highly-talked about prospect when he signed from Gillingham in 2008, Freeman grew frustrated at a lack of first-team opportunities at Arsenal, as he failed to even make the Carling Cup squad. However, he thrived on loan at Stevenage before making his move permanent midway through last season and seems well settled at the Lamex Stadium.
Arsenal’s first chance was, as it would transpire, the most exciting moment of a rather turgid 90 minutes, as Boateng hit a superb diagonal ball out to the left flank, where Gnabry controlled it well before rattling the crossbar with a fierce strike. The young German, who enjoyed such a successful first campaign with the club, was far from his energetic best today as he worked his way back to fitness, but that moment was a reminder, if it was needed, of the 17 year old’s undoubted class.
Freeman was still dangerous at the other end, however, even if his team-mates weren’t quite on the same wavelength when he delivered a dangerous cross. Gnabry headed another chance over following a good cross from Jernade Meade, whilst Akpom, who struggled for service in the lone striker role, saw a cross drift out of play.
Shea had to make a couple of good saves, including one from Freeman, before the half’s denouement, with Burton then introducing five new players at the break, with Hector Bellerin, Watt, Elton Monteiro, Isaac Hayden and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, or ‘BOO’ as he has been referred to, all entering the fray. The latter pair were making their Reserve debuts and Ormonde-Ottewill in particular was impressive with his raids down the left flank as Meade reverted to his previous left wing role.
Ormonde-Ottewill almost teed up Akpom with a telling cross, then Shea chased down a Stevenage attacker on the edge of his area, leaving his goal exposed in the process, but thankfully an acrobatic Stevenage effort drifted wide.
Henderson saw a free-kick go wide, Akpom headed over from a corner and Neita, still without a goal since December 2010, dragged an effort wide. In the midst of all that a moment of ingenuity from Freeman almost paid off when the 20 year old’s dipping volley went just over, before another Arsenal substitute, Philip Roberts, perhaps should have done better when a chance was presented to him late on.
Stevenage briefly threatened towards the end, with a free-kick whistling past Shea’s near post, but Arsenal held on for a commendable draw, even if this game will rather quickly be forgotten, such was the lack of tempo or attacking activity.
Nonetheless, some positives can be taken from this experience, as Martin Angha and Boateng delivered composed performances at the back whilst also contributing to attacking moves. Henderson completed his first 90 minutes for a considerable time. Bellerin, meanwhile, impressed again at right-back. It was the other full-back, Ormonde-Ottewill, however, who impressed the most. The first-year scholar has just one appearance for the under-18s to his name but has already trained with the first-team and, from these early signs, looks a good prospect.
The presence of Freeman and Dunne on the other side, however, was a pertinent reminder of just how difficult it is to make the grade at Arsenal, whilst simultaneously offering hope that it is possible to prosper elsewhere.