Arsenal moved clear of Chelsea in the Reserve League South table with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Griffin Park on Monday night. Kieran Gibbs, returning from injury, scored the only goal of the game to make it three wins out of five for the young Gunners.
This was Arsenal’s second game in six days so Neil Banfield called on the first-team experience of Denilson, Justin Hoyte and also Alex Song as the Frenchman continued his recovery from an calf injury. It was ultimately this that proved the decisive factor.
Both teams started tentatively, but it was Arsenal who got the earliest sniff of goal on six minutes. Nacer Barazite fed Rui Fonte but the striker’s shot from the corner of the box lacked venom and was saved at the keeper’s near post.
With 12 minutes gone the Gunners had another sight of goal. Abu Ogogo, playing in an advanced role in midfield dispossessed Patrick van Aanholt, and fed Rui Fonte. Fonte returned the favour and when Ogogo cut in from the byline he found Barazite, but the Dutchman’s low shot was saved well by the goalkeeper’s feet.
With men committed forward, Chelsea instantly broke clear. A long punt forward looked to have caught Arsenal unaware but Vito Mannone came racing off his line to clear the danger.
On 27 minutes Gibbs gambled on a Barazite flick on, and when the Chelsea defence hesitated, the winger held off a couple challenges then rounded the goalkeeper to slot the ball into an empty net. It was the least Gibbs deserved having started the move by winning a throw in from what looked like a lost cause.
Four minutes later it may well have been two. This time Barazite benefited from a flick on and when he pulled the ball back to unmarked Fran Merida, it seemed the Spaniard would score. Keeper Rhys Taylor though flung himself to his left to deny Merida brilliantly.
A quick free-kick nearly created the equaliser for Chelsea on 38 minutes. Fabio Ferriera benefited from the quick ball and as he rolled it across the box to the approaching Miroslav Stoch, scorer of five goals in the Academy and Reserve teams his season, Mannone smothered well.
Barring a couple of long-range efforts and the one chance that fell to Stoch, Chelsea hardly threatened Mannone’s goal in the first-half. The Italian was an apt sweeper on the occasions he was needed, and Song produced a half that justified Arsene Wenger’s faith in him as a centre back.
With five minutes gone in the second period, neat interplay in and around the Chelsea box, orchestrated by the growing influence of Denilson, nearly created an opening. The final delivery though eluded everyone in the box. It was a warning shot for Chelsea that they heeded. The visitors asserted themselves on the midfield but were unable to improve their fortune in front of goal – a lack of quality in the final third meant Arsenal held on to the advantage.
The first effort on goal in the second half fell to visitors on 65 minutes. Stoch latched onto a loose ball in midfield and instantly shaped to shoot. His dipping effort demanded Mannone’s full attention but, thankfully for the stopper, it sailed just over.
Both sides showed plenty of endeavour in the minutes that followed but it wasn’t until the 79th minute that the crowd could roar with anticipation. Denilson burst into the Chelsea half and with space opening up in front of him he let fly from distance, but Taylor flung himself to his right and shovelled the ball away.
Chelsea nearly hauled themselves back into the game. With a classic counter attack, substitute Gael Kakuta fed Harry Worley just inside the box. Mannone saved well but as the ball trickled towards the goal, a combination of Justin Hoyte and Ogogo was required to hack the ball to safety.
Arsenal should well have made the game safe with two minutes remaining.Vincent van den Berg cut in from the left and sprayed a fine ball across the 18-yard line to Ogogo. The England man dropped a shoulder and looked to bend the ball around Taylor but another stunning save prevented the margin from doubling.
The result is welcome return to winning ways for Banfield’s men after a loss and draw in the last two League fixtures, and will have shown a great deal of what his young side can do against a physical opposition.
Arsenal will host last season’s champions Reading in two weeks time.
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