By Adam Clark
Arsenal finished the Reserve League South season with an entertaining but frustrating goalless draw at Portsmouth on Wednesday.
The Gunners second string dominated from start to finish and can count themselves unfortunate not to have taken home all three points.
In truth, this could have been a landslide victory. But it was an encouraging performance all the same from Neil Banfield's side and one which bodes well for next season. They finish the campaign in ninth place but showed here why their coach has tipped his current charges for a bright future.
Against a team who have scored only 12 goals all season Arsenal's strength looked to be in defence. Estonia No 1 Mart Poom kept goal while Joe O'Cearuill and Matthew Connolly, who have had loan spells this term at League One sides Brighton and Bournemouth respectively, paired up at centre back.
And the young Gunners were fastest out of the blocks, launching their first attack from the kick off. A driving run from Kieran Gibbs preceded a measured one-two with Jay Thomas, only for a flick towards Jay Simpson to find goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. It set the tone for an encounter in which Arsenal lucklessly laid siege upon the Portsmouth goal.
On seven minutes Mark Randall spotted Begovic off his line and took aim from fully 45-yards. Full marks for innovation but his effort comfortably cleared the crossbar.
The Gunners continued to enjoy the space afforded them and although Gibbs' long-range effort followed a similar path to Randall's, Simpson pulled a strong save from Begovic.
Reasonable attempts from Daryl Fordyce, Steve Walker and Jon Docker ensured the visitors didn't have it all their own way but the fervent Randall had the Portsmouth keeper scrambling with another inventive volley.
On the half-hour mark Begovic denied Simpson once more, this time with his feet, before Connolly surged forward only to be dispossessed by the last man.
Poom was finally called to action six minutes before the break, diving low to his left to turn a fierce Fordyce effort past the post. The Estonian was worked again from a free-kick soon after but when play resumed Arsenal's dominance continued.
Defender Joel Ward blasted a Thomas cross over his own crossbar just two minutes after the break and Randall's clever dink forward further frayed the nerves of the Pompey backline. The tenacious midfielder was at the heart of every Arsenal attack and soon went close with a curling effort from the edge of the box.
Arsenal's persistence in playing around Portsmouth was pleasing to the eye but ultimately failing to deliver its rewards. A swift move involving Gibbs and Thomas was deserving of a breakthrough but the latter's shot unsurprisingly failed to negate the five defenders between the six-yard box and the goal.
Randall then surpassed himself, finding Gibbs, 40-yards up field, with the outside of his right boot. Through on goal the midfielder looked certain to score but Ward recovered quickly to charge down his shot.
On 73 minutes Poom dealt well with a potential banana skin, punching away a swirling wayward cross from substitute Ellis Martin but for the most part Pompey were kept quiet.
After Simpson had bulldozed through on 81 minutes substitute Ahmed Abdillahi nearly made his a debut to remember but again Portsmouth had the numbers to block. It was a problem Simpson also encountered once more before the end.
Highlights of tonight's game will be available on Arsenal TV Online tomorrow.
Neil Banfield makes his point
Jay Thomas shields the ball
Thomas fires in a shot
Simpson holds off Oastler
Vincent van den Berg in full flow
Jay Simpson stretches to shoot
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- O'Cearuill Yellow Card
- Emmanuel-Thomas 71
- Randall Yellow Card
- Dunne Yellow Card
- van den Berg 65
- Steer Yellow Card
- Ahmed Abdillahi
- Rodgers 71
- Fonte 65