By Adam Clark
Arsenal battled but did so in vain as they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Watford on Monday night.
It was harsh on the young Gunners who survived a frantic start from the visitors to have more than a say in the game. Neil Banfield's side probed away from start to finish and played the better football throughout.
Jay Simpson, Fran Merida and Vincent van den Berg could all have found themselves on the scoresheet but it was Watford's Cedric Avinel who grabbed the only goal of the game with 14 minutes remaining.
Unfortunately tempers flared at full time. The two sides had to be separated and when the dust had settled referee Mr Watts, who booked five players from each side during the game, brandished red cards for midfielder Mark Randall and Watford's John-Joe O'Toole.
Banfield named an inexperienced side. In fact, Vito Mannone the 19-year-old Italian goalkeeper was his most senior player. After the helping hand lent by Johan Djourou, Mart Poom and Justin Hoyte last week the responsibility was very much back with the youngsters.
Watford's line up was as youthful as Arsenal's and it was they who created first only for Kieron Forbes to head straight at Mannone.
On 13 minutes Liam Henderson fired in another shot which Mannone palmed away and when the ball was lofted back in moments later the Italian had to tip over an audacious lob from Will Hoskins. Lee Williamson then curled a free-kick wide and you sensed the screw was being turned.
But Arsenal began to show flashes of their own. Van den Berg toed an effort off target and Barazite jinked past two players before curling narrowly over the angle.
With 25 minutes gone Van den Berg rippled the side-netting once more and Arsenal looked more like the side that triumphed at Fulham six days before.
Ten minutes before half time a handball on the edge of the box
gave Merida a chance to take aim but his fierce effort was absorbed
by the wall.
A succession of stoppages spoiled the momentum of the game but in injury time the sides shared a chance apiece. Merida's ambitious 30-yard effort whistled into the stands and when the visitors broke Forbes miscued after finding space in the box.
A competitive start to the second half saw few chances early on. A succession of hopeful punts up field went astray for the Hornets while Arsenal's attempts to play through their opponents went unrewarded.
They finally managed it on 63 minutes. Randall found Van den Berg who in turn had the awareness to slide Abu Ogogo in behind the back line. The right back charged onto the Dutchman's perfectly-weighted throughball and sent keeper Scott Loach scrambling with a shot that flashed across the face of goal.
O'Toole cleared Mannone's crossbar with a rare Watford attempt but with their next, on 76 minutes, they broke the deadlock. Mannone reacted instinctively to claw away Alex Campana's backpost header but could do little as Avinel forced in the rebound.
On 84 minutes Simpson tested Loach with Arsenal's final chance while Mannone saved a point blank header from substitute Ewan Clarke to keep the deficit at one.
- O'Cearuill 55
- Merida Yellow Card
- Randall Red Card
- Simpson Yellow Card
- Dunne 77 Yellow Card
- Berg 82
- Steer Yellow Card
- Rodgers 55
- Efrem 77
- Fonte 82