Boreham Wood 1 Arsenal XI 3
I missed the Markus Liebherr cup thingy last weekend having been in Lisbon. So this represented my first sojourn into the rigours of pre season. The talk on Saturday morning al seemed to be of a certain captain who has been left behind by his club as they jetted off to Asia. In that respect, the Boreham Wood match was ideal respite. I`m a bit jaded by seeing the conversation and conjecture of every summer focussing on individuals who are a small part of a bigger picture where a football club is concerned. We didn`t even discuss the issue as me, Kris, Tim and Terry converged on the Hart and Spool pub shortly after midday to warm up our gullets for the new season.
Youngsters Ignasi Miquel, Chuks Aneke, Benik Afobe, Kyle Bartley (who seems to be taking Sebastien Squillaci`s place as 5th choice centre half) and Nico Yennaris were at Luton airport with the first team, so we already knew it would be an even younger side than usual for Terry Burton`s first game in charge of the Reserves. There will be a number of scholars looking to push on for a regular reserve team slot this year and the likes of Kristoffer Olsson and Chuba Akpom, aged just 16, represented this new crop of second string hopefuls. Conor Henderson was the older head in the side and wore the captain`s armband. Burton experimented with his line up, playing midfielder Kyle Ebecilio at right back and Swiss full back Sead Hajrovic in the holding role in midfield.
Both looked uncomfortable in the first half, Ebecilio in particular, who struggled to link up with Josh Rees on the right. Much of the play came through Henderson who sprayed passes liberally from central midfield and looked every inch the senior professional. One often finds in these pre season games that the smaller side begins with enthusiasm and graft, motivated by the prospect of an Arsenal scalp, only to fade through fatigue. It was exactly how this game panned out. The Gunners struggled to service Sanchez Watt and Akpom upfront. Their first chance fell to Conor Henderson, who hit a vicious left footed free kick which deflected narrowly wide.
But the home team took the lead on 13 minutes via an old Arsenal academy graduate. Omer Riza had once been measured as the fastest player at Arsenal when he was playing for the Reserves in the late 90s- even faster than the young Nicolas Anelka. His pace may not be as livewire nowadays, but he still sowed keen instincts to meet Montgomery`s cross with keeper Damian Martinez flapping and head Wood into the lead. Arsenal tried to muster a positive response but looked disjointed and a tad prone to over embellishment in the final third. A series of slick one twos were close to setting strikers through on goal but to no avail. Jernade Meade hit a low skimming shot just past the far post.
Arsenal ought to have equalised when Ben Nunn found himself off balance from Mark Jones` pass across the back line. Sanchez Watt intervened and bore down on goal. But he carried the ball with all the conviction and attitude of a bear that had just been shot in the arse with a tranquiliser dart and Luke Garrard came back with a saving tackle. The Gunners laboured and Boreham Wood ought to have doubled their lead when both Monteiro and captain Martin Angha were deceived by the bounce of Isaac`s pass and Elliott Buchanan was denied by Martinez. Riza could have scored again too but for a fine diving block by Martin Angha inside the six yard area. Akpom responded with a cross shot that went close after Watt and Henderson`s neat interplay. But at half time, Arsenal had much work to do.
Aside from being treated like an adult and trusted to drink beer in full view of the pitch, one of the attractions of the non league ground is being able to choose where you sit. Having perched ourselves on the halfway line in the West Stand for the first half, sensing Arsenal would attack for most of the second half, we wandered along to the North terrace and positioned ourselves directly behind the goal. Burton made three changes as James Shea, Jordan Wynter and Daniel Boateng replaced Martinez, Monteiro and Josh Rees. The Gunners immediately set about making up the slack on the scoreboard. Henderson crashed another free kick beyond the wall only to be denied by a good tip over from the red haired Russell in the Wood goal. Burton brought on Robert Phillips and Anthony Jeffrey- the latter made a huge difference with his trickery and penetrative running from the left flank.
That said, Boreham Wood should have put the result out of sight when Nunn`s cross caused Boateng and Angha to leave the ball to one another, and Luke Garrard screwed the ball embarrassingly wide with the goal at his mercy. Boreham Wood had held West Ham a week ago and were proving worthy opponents here too. But they soon tired and Arsenal got to grips with the game in its final furlong. Akpom latched onto Jeffrey`s pass, toed the ball round Russell who dragged him down and the referee gave the penalty. Sanchez Watt stepped up and coolly slotted to Russell`s right to equalise.
Five minutes later, another penalty award gave Arsenal the opportunity to lead. Jeffrey roared down the left and played in Olsson, whose flick fell to Philip Roberts in the area. Callum Reynolds stuck a foot out and Roberts didn`t refuse the invitation to stay still and let it hit his shin. This time 16 year old Chuba Akpom determinedly grabbed the ball and put it down on the spot. Like Watt before him, he calmly positioned the ball to Russell`s right and in the net. With 5 minutes remaining and the home side tiring, Arsenal put some gloss on the scoreline. Hector Bellerin`s flick on found Kristoffer Olsson and he young Swede impudently lobbed James Russell from the edge of the area. All in all a good work out, we warmed down with a few choice jars in the Crown next to Elstree station, happy that our vocal chords and livers had been satisfactorily fine tuned for the new season. Next week is Stevenage, where we plan to step up our pre season preparations. A can of Special Brew on the train ought to do it. LD.
1.MARTINEZ (13.Shea H/T), 2.EBECILIO (16.Roberts '61), 5.ANGHA (c) (15.Bimhoutine '70), 6.MONETEIRO (12.Boateng H/T), 3.MEADE (14.Bellerin '70), 7.REES (18.Wynter H/T), 4.HAJROVIC, 8.HENDERSON (17.Jeffrey '61), 10.OLSSON, 11.AKPOM, 9.WATT. Unused: 19.Charles-Crook.