By Adam Clark
If last week's 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa taught Arsenal Reserves a lesson in taking chances, last night's identical defeat at Charlton simply reinforced the point.
The game saw just three shots on target and all three brought goals. As has so often been the case of late, all three were celebrated by the opposition.
There was little Arsenal could have done about Kevin Lisbie's opener. A fine run followed by a nonchalant flicked finish, it oozed Premiership class. But a needless challenge from Gavin Hoyte gave away the free-kick from which Lisbie scored his second before Donovan Simmonds added emphasis to the scoreline which flattered the hosts.
Nine of Arsenal's outfield players will be in contention when Steve Bould picks his team for the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final second leg. That in itself is testament to how inexperienced Neil Banfield's second string has been this season but it also shows that this side is capable of winning games.
They're just waiting to find their finishing touch at this level.
This was arguably the nadir of a winless streak that now stretches to nine games. Yet with a 1-0 lead to take to Old Trafford next Monday, this side - albeit under the label of Arsenal Under-18s - could become the first to reach the Youth Cup Final since Jeremie Aliadiere, Ashley Cole, Jermaine Pennant, Moritz Volz, Steven Sidwell et al got there in 2001.
Back to The Valley and Lisbie was undoubtedly the outstanding player on show. He was a constant threat to Arsenal centre backs Hoyte and Matthew Connolly. Indeed it was Lisbie who created the first chance on 16 minutes. His surging run took three Arsenal players out of the equation and allowed him to pick out strike partner Chris Dickson. The former Dulwich Hamlet forward fired the ball across the face of goal but Scott Wagstaff's outstretched toe failed to make contact at the back post.
Seven minutes later Arsenal had their best chance of the game as Giorgios Efrem found Nacer Barazite wandering in from the left. The Dutchman bided his time, taking the ball into the box before firing across Rob Elliot's goalmouth and agonisingly wide of the upright.
Every time Lisbie got the ball he looked the man most likely and on 35 minutes he capitalised on a wayward pass from Armand Traore. The forward turned quickly and powered forward before gliding away from Traore and James Dunne. Now in the penalty area Lisbie side-stepped Connolly before skilfully lifting the ball high over Vito Mannone as the keeper dived at his feet.
It was the only memorable moment of a lifeless first half but it was glorious compared to the opening 20 minutes of the second period. Not until Barazite's shot was charged down on 69 minutes did the Valley crowd witness a shot on goal.
Then five minutes later Lisbie got the goal which effectively killed the game. The striker got the better of Hoyte prompting a challenge from the defender that was clumsy and borne of frustration. Hackles were raised and, after confronting Hoyte, Lisbie joined his opponent in the referee's notebook.
The Arsenal youngster was to pay the ultimate punishment just seconds later though as, from the subsequent free-kick, Lisbie got in front of Connolly to glance a header low to Mannone's left.
Having already sent on one debutant, Sanchez Watt, at half time, Banfield then gave Luke Ayling his first taste of reserve-team football. Both looked lively but it was Addicks striker Dickson who nearly inflicted a further wound, only to blast over from six yards. At the other end a wild long-range effort from Efrem was the best the young Gunners could muster.
Then with two minutes left on the clock Wagstaff got lucky as the ball ran away from Abu Ogogo. Already clear of his marker, Connolly's slip allowed Wagstaff acres of space to pick out the run of Simmonds, who smashed past Mannone without breaking stride.
Arsenal's youngsters are learning the lessons the hard way at this level. There will rarely be a better opportunity to put them to the test than at Old Trafford on Monday.
Giorgos Efrem bursts forward
Debutant Sanchez Watt on the ball
Dunne battles Dickson for the ball
Jay Thomas holds off his man
Chris Solly slides in on Armand Traore
Luke Ayling gets his first taste of reserve-team football
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- Connolly Yellow Card
- Rodgers 46
- Hoyte Yellow Card
- Barazite 79
- Fonte 69
- Watt 46
- Ayling 79
- Emmanuel-Thomas 69