By Adam Clark
Arsenal Reserves finally halted their six-game losing streak with a hard-earned point against Chelsea on Monday.
On a pitch that was barely playable and with a constant mist of rain sailing through the Hampshire sky both sides coped admirably. In the circumstances, the goalless draw was a point well earned.
Arsenal had the better chances and Chelsea will themselves look to a spell of domination in the second half. But with the conditions as they were neither side could find a winner.
For the first time in a long while manager Neil Banfield could call on some first-team experience. Mart Poom, whose only Arsenal appearance came in the 1-0 Carling Cup win at Everton in November, kept goal while centre back Matthew Connolly returned following a five-game absence.
The first chance fell to Chelsea's Ricardo Fernandes but his volley flashed wide without troubling Poom. Soon after Sam Hutchinson's diving head cleared a James Dunne effort but the opening stages were slow going as both sides adapted to the troublesome playing surface.
With quarter of an hour played Arsenal sparked to life and fashioned two decent goalscoring opportunities in quick succession. The first fell to Jay Simpson on 16 minutes after good work in midfield from Kieran Gibbs. Chelsea stopper Yves Ma-Kalambay was on the striker in a flash however and in lifting the ball over the keeper Simpson also cleared the crossbar.
A driving run from Randall should have led to the opener three minutes later but Vincent van den Berg's effort lacked conviction and was easily cleared.
Gibbs, who worked tirelessly all game, came closest to breaking the deadlock on 27 minutes. The youngster broke clear down the left and with the angle against him drilled across the face of Ma-Kalambay's goal. The shot had Ma-Kalambay beaten but not the post and when the rebound eluded the outstretched leg of Dunne another chance had gone.
At the other end Arsenal's defence was dogged. Chelsea enjoyed a fair amount of possession but Sahar's deflected effort on 32 minutes was all they had to show for it.
Between then and half time the heads in the crowd swung with the game as it became rather reminiscent of a rally at Wimbledon. Yet despite the play surging from one end to the other neither side was able to muster a shot capable of breaking their opponents' resolve.
The second half began in much the same way but it was Chelsea who looked the more likely in the worsening conditions.
Five minutes in substitute Fabio Ferreira crossed for Sergio Tejera who smashed into the roof of the net from six yards. The home crowd were already up in celebration but the players had heard the whistle: referee Steven Tomlinson had spotted an infringement.
Miroslav Stoch then fired through a crowded box but Poom reacted quickly and gathered at the first attempt.
Undeterred by the driving rain and shredded playing surface Fran Merida played a clever reverse pass to Dunne only for the ball to skip safely into the path of Ma-Kalambay.
With both sides fading in the quagmire the game gradually deteriorated. The teams deserved credit for their endeavour but finding that final pass became an uphill struggle.
There was a brief moment when, following a scramble in the box, tempers threatened to boil over. Comparisons to that now infamous melee between the senior sides in the Carling Cup Final would be easy to make but any suggestions that this was a confrontation on the scale of that in Cardiff would be unjust. The scenes quickly petered out and what was an otherwise mild mannered affair continued in that vein.
With three minutes remaining the best chance of the half - and arguably the game - fell to Chelsea. Almost inevitably it was the result of a slip as Rene Steer hit the ground allowing Ferreira to pick out Sahar. The Israeli striker fluffed his kick but the ball fell kindly for Stoch six-yards out. The midfielder took one touch to control before dragging his shot across the face of Poom's gaping goalmouth.
In the final minute Arsenal so nearly made their hosts pay. A loose ball came to a sudden halt on the penalty spot and Dunne charged in before letting fly. He struck the ball as sweetly as it had been all evening but his effort flew inches wide and with it went any hopes of that elusive victory.
- Ogogo Yellow Card
- Simpson 47
- Randall 65
- Berg 47
- Efrem 47
- Lansbury 65
- Fonte 47