Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday February 24 2012
Since last week`s column, the Reserves and Ladies sides have had a productive week behind the scenes. Preparations for the Ladies upcoming WSL campaign continue apace, whilst the Reserves side are winding down their season, with players on the move and established internationals joining their ranks too.
The Ladies have enjoyed a pretty comfortable start to their pre season preparations. A weekend tour of Scotland represented no significant bother with a trio of convincing victories. An 8-0 triumph over Celtic on Friday, followed by a 9-0 shellacking of Glasgow Rangers on Saturday, before the girls took their foot off the pedal slightly with a 4-2 win against Glasgow City on Sunday. Competition intensified slightly on Tuesday evening, as Danielle Carter`s goal saw off Nottingham Forest in a charity match at Corby Town. An equally nip and tuck encounter at Gillingham saw the Ladies come back from a goal down to beat Gillingham 2-1 at Chatham Town Match report here. I wrote in last week`s column that the likes of Danielle Carter and Jennifer Beattie would be expected to step up this season with more senior members of the squad ageing and Carter and Beattie were both on the score sheet in Kent.
In an effort to promote the upcoming WSL campaign, the club have announced that the league game with Chelsea on Thursday, 26th April will be the first WSL match played at Emirates Stadium. The club are allowing for a capacity of 9,500 for the match, with tickets information here . Though it is somewhat unfortunate that the men`s game at home to Manchester City has been moved to Sunday, 8th April to accommodate Sky, meaning it now clashes with the Ladies` first WSL home game against Everton at Borehamwood. Meanwhile, the draw for the WSL Continental Cup took place this week. Naturally, Arsenal are the holders of the inaugural trophy from last season.
The format this year sees the eight WSL teams divided into two groups of four, playing one another once each. The top 2 from each group then progress to the semi final knockout stage. Arsenal have been handed a tough group, with games away at Liverpool w/e of 17th March, a date away at Lincoln City Ladies on May 12 / 13 concluding with a home tie against Chelsea on June 9th or 10th. Arsenal defeated Lincoln City in last year`s semi final prior to their 3-1 Final success over Birmingham City.
Moving on to the Reserves and it`s been a bust week for Neil Banfield too. I`m guessing someone, somewhere, read the column last week, because within 48 hours of using it to ponder on the future of Craig Eastmond, it was announced that he had joined Wycombe Wanderers on loan until the end of the season. Eastmond emphasises a habit that Arsenal`s youth development seems to specialise in, having played as a right back in most of the youth side`s run to the 2009 F.A. Cup victory, he converted into a defensive midfielder.
Nico Yennaris has spent most of his nascent career in central midfield, but has found first team minutes as a right back. Jernade Meade has also spent time in the Reserves playing at both left back and central midfield. I guess this is a reflection of Arsene`s philosophy that he likes his full backs to be direct and technically adept. For a while, Eastmond looked as though he would constitute part of the first team picture. But he never really kicked on and an injury last summer has really hampered his progress. Another full back that will surely be joining him through the exit door this summer is Swiss right back Sead Hajrovic, who has extended his loan spell with Barnet until March 31st. Harjrovic`s posture and lolloping style puts one in mind of Oleg Luzhny, but with Yennaris- a midfielder- shunted into the first team picture during the great right back shortage of 2012, Hajrovic is clearly not fancied. He has tended to start Barnet`s home games and sit on the bench for their away fixtures- which suggests his attacking style is handy, but defensively he is still suspect.
The fixture for Neil Banfield`s men at Carrow Road on Tuesday night yielded more attention that a reserve game is ordinarily wont to do. Whether for reasons punitive or practical, Marouane Chamakh, Ju Young Park, Yossi Benayoun and Andrey Arshavin all started the game. I`d suggest that the opposition as well as the timing had a bearing on that decision. The Canaries` reserve side haven`t won a game in three months and it was little surprise to see Arsenal run out 5-0 winners. Park, Benayoun and a couple from Arshavin elucidating the difference between the sides. By all accounts Benayoun was comfortably the best player on the pitch. Arshavin`s two goals will hopefully have provided him with a measure of joie de vivre.
His first, for all the world looked like a cross that crept into the far post. His second was an exquisite piece of control allied with one of those zero back lift, steered finishes for which he used to be famed. But more crucially from a Reserves viewpoint, Benik Afobe made his return from injury, coming on for the injured Chamakh. Initially he saw a good penalty quite brilliantly saved by Norwich keeper David Wooton. However, in the second half he latched onto Benayoun`s reverse pass to finish consummately. Afobe had just begun to bleed into the first team picture in the summer after a successful loan period at Huddersfield Town last season. It was a groin injury sustained in the Emirates Cup that has kept him sidelined to this point.
Promising youngsters have often found their chances at Arsenal hindered by injuries at the wrong time. Craig Eastmond has found it as have many in the past- Ryan Smith comes to mind and you can`t help but fret over Frimpong`s latest injury. Afobe had shown great promise at the Terriers and, at a time when Arsenal`s striking options beyond van Persie are, frankly, a joke, Afobe could yet find a breakthrough provided he doesn`t allow the injury to interrupt his progress too greatly. Anyone accustomed with Benik`s twitter feed will also recognise what a genuinely humble and pleasant individual he appears to be. He fits Arsene`s favoured impression of a front man in that he is quick and strong and can play wide or through the centre. Let`s hope he can end his season very strongly and win a place in the first team squad for pre season again this summer.
The Reserves next fixture is at Chelsea`s Cobham Training Ground on the afternoon of Monday, 5th March. It`s behind closed doors, so no attendees. The next home game will be open to attendees though, free of charge on Tuesday, 13th March against West Bromwich Albion at Barnet`s Underhill. Kickoff 7pm. More next week.
Update: The home match with West Brom Reserves has been put back 24 hours until Wednesday, 14th March at Underhill kickoff 7pm. The Ladies play a few hours earlier at Borehamwood v Gothenburg Ladies for a 2.30pm kickoff.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Friday February 24 2012
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