By Matt Fortune
Arsenal fell to a second home defeat of the season on Monday night, defending champions Reading emerging victorious thanks to a goal from England Under-21 international Leroy Lita.
The striker was well marshalled by Gavin Hoyte and Paul Rodgers for much of the game but produced a fine finish early in the second half.
Nonetheless, it was a marked improvement for this young Arsenal side considering they were beaten 6-0 by the Royals last season. Seven members of that Reading starting XI lined up tonight, including hat-trick heroes Shane Long and James Henry.
Arsenal are clearly a much tougher opponent now. Quicker, technically better and far stronger, they were unfortunate to lose again.
Banfield named another youthful side that contained nine of the players who had played against Ipswich in the Academy League four days earlier.
As early as the third minute Arsenal had the first sniff of goal. Henri Lansbury, playing his first Reserve League game since travelling to Malaysia for the Under-17 Championships, played a neat one-two with Rui Fonte and raced into the box. His snap shot flashed wide.
Reading should have led two minutes later - the crossbar was rattled twice in quick succession. First Shane Long, and then Henry with his head, were both frustrated.
With chances at a premium the game was going to be decided in midfield. With James Dunne casting an imposing shadow there, the visitors were forced to go long - a ploy that didn't work. Dunne has had a fine season in the heart of the midfield. His no-nonsense approach was sorely missed after the interval.
The finest chance of the half came on 26 minutes. Battling hard, Lansbury won a ball he had no right to win. He cleverly found Jay Thomas, and after some high-tempo interchange the ball fell to Nacer Barazite just inside the box. The Dutchman, recently scorer of a hat-trick in the Academy League, hammered his shot over.
Arsenal were in the ascendancy and the crowd could sense a goal. Sanchez Watt, Kieran Gibbs and Barazite all had half-chances but it didn't come.
Reading had their best chance four minutes before the break, but in tune with the rest of the opening period it was wasted. The ball boys behind Vito Manonne's goal were far busier than the Italian between the sticks.
Dunne was withdrawn during the interval and within eight minutes of the restart the visitors led. Lita, after a fine first touch, muscled his way past Hoyte and applied a crisp finish low beyond the keeper.
For all their honest endeavour, Banfield's team failed to overcome an imposing defence. They huffed and puffed and with an hour gone, Barazite summed up the early part of the second-half. Cutting in from the right he shot in anger and it sailed way beyond the Underhill's adjoining car park.
Reading went back on the front foot and Arsenal's stopper Mannone was forced into series of smart saves to keep the margin at one goal.
The Royals were nearly made to rue their missed chances. Substitute Craig Eastmond picked out the marauding run of Thomas who sent in a cross that invited a touch from anyone. Reading's Australian stopper got a strong hand to it first and when the ball cannoned out to Fonte the crowd roared expectantly. However, the Portuguese striker failed to connect properly under pressure.
The episode seemed to spark the Gunners into life. They re-asserted their authority without improving their fortune. Watt again went close.
A stunning double save seven minutes from the end, from the highly impressive Manonne, gave Arsenal further impetus to push on and find an equaliser. They couldn't.
The defeat is Arsenal's second of the season but marks another giant leap forward on from last season when Reading had things all their own way. That was not the case tonight.
- Rodgers 75
- Gibbs 49
- Dunne 46
- Blackwood 75
- Ayling 49
- Eastmond 46