Arsenal Reserves 2 Manchester United Reserves 1
With the football season back with a vengeance, the appetite is whetted and ravenous. After three months on the leash (save for a pre season soiree to Woking), the lion is out of his cage and preying on its next victim. So my salacious appetite prowled upon the affluent, suburban surrounds of Barnet, Hertfordshire for the first game of the Premier Reserve League season. The club do seem to have subtly taken feedback on board with regards to continuing to play Arsenal`s Reserve games in the public gallery of Barnet`s Underhill Stadium. The stiffs will play six fixtures there this season, compared to four last season.
I arrived to meet Terry, Young Tim and Luigi at the Red Lion pub shortly before 6pm; did they have a pint of bitter waiting for me? Did they buggery! But they did have three, nearly empty glasses before them- just in time for my inaugural visit to the bar. August is always a good time to watch a Reserve match in terms of the strength of the line ups. More senior reserve team/ fringe players have yet to shuffle off on loan, whilst those short of pre season practise are also given run outs. United fielded a strong line up, with Darron Gibson and Darren Fletcher lining up in central midfield, Mame Diouf upfront and Thomas Kuszczak in goal. Meanwhile, Vermaelen`s status as Arsenal`s back up left back was all but confirmed by the appearance of Armand Traore at left back, 24 hours before a crucial Champions League Qualifier for which the first team squad is not exactly bursting.
The likes of Benik Afobe. Chuks Aneke, Luke Freeman and Sanchez Watt were also in the line up. It`s difficult to imagine that all four will be lining up for the Reserves come September, with loans to Football League clubs likely. United`s, ahem, Southern contingent of fans made for a large crowd too. The strength of the line ups and the freshness of the players made for a very exciting game, which enjoyed a lively start. Dutch centre half Kyle Ebecilio almost opened the scoring early on, racing onto Sanchez Watt`s flick on and driving a low shot straight at Kuszczak. But after 9 minutes, Armand Traore was the first of three players to limp out of the action, suggesting early season ring rust was prevalent. He appeared to be clutching his groin as he moved towards the bench. The titchy Jernade Meade took his left back berth. A few minutes later, Benik Afobe too limped off with what appeared to be a calf complaint, allowing Chamakh-a-like Martin Angha to enter the fray. Afobe seemed to collect the injury powering past three United defenders and into the box, before firing over from a tight angle.
Arsenal`s speed and tenacity appeared to be giving United`s thoroughbreds` problems and the young Gunners took a deserved lead around the half hour mark. Kyle Ebecilio carried the ball forward with purpose once more, drawing United centre half Reece Brown towards him, before slipping a cultured pass into the channel for Sanchez Watt, who dinked his finish over the diving Thomas Kuszczak to make it 1-0. But after a coruscating start, Arsenal`s youngsters needed a few minutes to breathe in and United took full advantage just before half time. United hit Arsenal on the break, with Gibson finding Pogba in space on the right with Meade over committed. Pogba slid a low cross in which Mame Diouf had no problems slotting into the bottom corner from close range.
United threatened to sneak into the lead in first half injury time when Diouf manoeuvred his way around Meade and into the area, Mannone pulled off a reflex stop. The rebound fell to Gibson on the edge of the area, but Mannone was up smartly to block his follow up effort too. The second half was an altogether more tepid affair, with early season lactic acid gripping the legs of both sets of players. The two ten year olds next to me swearing their little heads off in a high pitch squeal illuminated proceedings somewhat. Some rather meaty challenges got the crowd excited, as well as the comical prospect of Jernade Meade- who is probably not even five feet tall, scrapping and avoiding the sandwiched challenge of Pogba and Drinkwater.
Sanchez Watt threatened when he robbed the weary Reece Brown of possession on the edge of United`s area. But Watt`s effort was beaten away by the legs of Kuszczak. But with 15 minutes remaining, Arsenal found a deserved winner when Chuks Aneke shimmied his way into the area, shifted the ball between Brown and Fryers. Aneke`s effort took a wicked deflection off of Brown, sending Kuszczak sprawling the wrong way on its way into the net. Arsenal held firm for the final furlong, despite the amused presence of Kuszczak for United`s last two set pieces. Kuszczak was urged to attack the set pieces by the crowd. He responded, grinning as he sprinted towards Arsenal`s area.
The final whistle was greeted by the sight of Banfield punching the air. His enthusiasm on the touchline down below us was quite inspiring. It turned out to be a quite excellent victory for a young Arsenal side given the experience and prestige of some of their opponents. It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening and all free of charge. Post match, we fell lovingly into the Queen`s Arms for a jar and to watch the second half of City`s dismantling of Swansea. The dove tailing of Silva and Aguero though, had nothing on the movement of Watt and the direction of Aneke. Arsenal`s Reserves play Sunderland at Underhill on Wednesday, 31st August. I recommend attending. LD.
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