After a slow start to pre-season for the Arsenal Reserves, things are certainly beginning to pick up with the new season rapidly approaching and tonight’s 3-0 victory over Boreham Wood at Meadow Park was an exquisite example of the realms of attacking talent that the young Gunners possess.
A stunning first-half goal from Mark Randall was added to by a typically clinical finish from Benik Afobe and an own goal following good work from Roarie Deacon down the left flank but, even more pleasing was the contributions of the two debutants, the much-vaunted Brazilian Wellington Silva and Japanese trialist Ryo Miyaichi.
Despite being named in the initial squad, Jay Simpson was not involved this evening, sparking speculation that he is currently in talks with Bristol City over a possible move. In his absence, Miyaichi was handed a starting berth on the left flank of a forward three that also contained Rhys Murphy, on the right, and Afobe up front. Randall anchored the midfield with Oguzhan Ozyakup, whilst Chuks Aneke operated just in front of them. The back four consisted of Havard Nordtveit, Ignasi Miquel and the returning Kyle Bartley and Thomas Cruise. Wellington began the game on a substitutes bench that also included Nacer Barazite and Gavin Hoyte.
The Gunners were determined to impose themselves from the off and began at a startlingly brisk pace that saw them take the lead within two minutes. Following several neat interchanges in midfield, Randall picked the ball up around the half-way line and launched a stupendous effort on goal from distance that found the back of the net. It was a surefire way to answer back to his many critics although it is somewhat difficult to comprehend how he can score such an amazing goal from distance but couldn’t find the net from much closer in against AC Milan in the Emirates Cup at the weekend.
The hosts responded with a tame effort wide but, in truth, they offered little going forward all evening and could only marvel at the fabulous football the young Gunners were playing around them. Afobe was next to try his luck, showing good ball control with his back to goal but firing his effort just wide.
Cruise was proving a useful attacking outlet on the left-flank and crossed for Murphy but the striker couldn’t finish, before Miyaichi made his first meaningful contribution to the game, embarking on his trademark mazy dribble and showing good pace to win a corner. From the resulting set piece Aneke skewed an effort well wide.
Miyaichi, spurred on by his earlier foray, then displayed his astute dribbling skills down the left flank once more and this time nearly had an end product to show for it but was denied by the crossbar. Shortly afterwards he hit a shot straight at the ‘keeper but his determination and directness was a refreshing sight indeed.
By now, the Gunners were brimming with confidence and Randall tried another pot shot from distance but to no avail on this occasion. Miquel, Bartley and Ozyakup all spurned further opportunities before goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was called into action for the first time, barely having to work to stop a tame effort from distance.
Miyaichi fired another shot just wide before the hosts had a couple of opportunities of their own. That, on each occasion, the ball went out of the ground tells you all you need to know about their accuracy, or lack of it, in front of goal.
Ozyakup was proving a creative force in midfield and he crossed for Miquel who headed over before playing a key part in Arsenal doubling their advantage just before the break. He played in Aneke, who demonstrated his telepathic understanding with Afobe by playing a deft lob which the England under-17 raced onto and converted with aplomb for his first goal at this level.
Murphy and Randall squandered further opportunities before the half was out and, in truth, the Gunners really should have been four or five goals to the good at the very least at the interval considering the vast number of chances they created in the first half.
Banfield made three changes at the break, introducing Hoyte and Barazite for Miquel and Randall, whilst also bringing on Wellington for Murphy for his Reserve debut.
The Brazilian appeared keen to impress and demonstrated his skills with a couple of stepovers and mazy runs. He took a little while to integrate into the flowing pattern of play but, once he did, there was no stopping him dancing through hordes of defenders. Playing on the left flank, with Miyaichi on the right, he linked well with Aneke and Afobe on several occasions.
Aneke and Afobe teamed up again, with a fine move culminating in the latter firing a shot straight at the ‘keeper. Afobe then turned provider for Aneke, but the powerhouse midfielder somehow managed to only win a corner when a goal appeared a certainty.
Aneke had another shot saved before Miyaichi, who was tiring by now, hit a scuffed effort on goal. Wellington was becoming increasingly involved and found Aneke with a beautifully executed lofted pass but Afobe couldn’t finish once threaded through.
At this point, Banfield made a further four changes, bringing on James Shea, Roarie Deacon, Cedric Evina and Daniel Boateng. Miyaichi was one of those to depart and he left the field to rapturous applause, although he did also appear to be hobbling a little. Aneke, another of those to be withdrawn, was considerably disappointed to have been taken off but he can be pleased with his contribution this evening.
A poor misjudgement by Boateng, as he was still attempting to accustom himself to the surroundings upon his introduction, allowed Boreham Wood a glimmer of hope in front of goal but it was merely a brief respite for the hosts and Arsenal resumed their attacking procession shortly after, with Afobe heading just over from a Nordtveit cross and Barazite hitting another effort over.
Wellington began to get back into the game and frequently drifted inside, linking well with Barazite on one occasion and forcing a good save with a fierce drive. He then had another shot deflected wide and, from the resulting corner, Hoyte smacked the crossbar after meeting the ball with a swift connection.
Wellington thought he had a goal to remember his debut by when he played a sumptuous 1-2 with Afobe and found the net but saw his effort disallowed, presumably for offside.
There were further chances before Wellington won a free-kick with another mazy dribble, with Ozyakup directing the set-piece straight at the wall. There was still time for a third, with Deacon interchanging well with Evina down the left and the former crossed for a Boreham Wood defender to convert into his own net.
In the end it was only three but it should have been at least double that. The Reserves continue their preparations against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday but tonight’s affair, which was attended by Jack Wilshere, Conor Henderson, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and former Gunner Luke Ayling, will be remembered as the first time many got to see Wellington in the flesh, whilst the impressive contribution of Miyaichi may well have been enough to earn him a permanent deal.
Szczesny and Shea barely had a save to make between them, so can hardly be judged on tonight’s events.
In defence, Nordtveit was solid and dependable at right-back and got forward well. Bartley and Miquel were rarely troubled and Boateng settled in well after his early mistake. Cruise wasn’t really involved at left-back but played some good passes in central-midfield when Evina came on, with the Cameroonian a good attacking outlet down the left flank. Hoyte hit the crossbar but wasn’t tested defensively.
In midfield, Randall seemed determined to prove a point and did so with his stupendous early goal and was impressive with his neat passing thereafter. Ozyakup was a little sloppy with his passes in the first half but improved greatly in the second period and linked up well with Barazite, who was a direct threat on goal. Aneke was slow to grow into the game but he was impressive linking up with Afobe in the second period, whilst Miyaichi impressed with his dribbling and directness, although he was overwhelmed a little physcially. Deacon tried his utmost and finally got his reward in the dying moments with the cross that led to the third goal being converted.
Up front, Murphy was one of the few Gunners players who didn’t really shine and the former England Youth international did not have many attempts on goal, unlike Afobe who probably should have had two or three more but nonetheless will be happy with his first goal at this level. Wellington, as mentioned, was a real handful for the Boreham Wood defenders and certainly looks an impressive talent.