By Mo Khan
Arsenal came from two goals down to salvage a point against Crystal Palace at Underhill on Monday night.
In an action-packed second half, debutant Giorgos Efrem had a hand in both goals for Neil Banfield's side, poaching the first before winning the penalty from which Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner scored the equaliser.
The visitors had raced into a two-goal lead early into the second period with a brace from Lewis Grabban, as former Gunner Tommy Black returned to his old stomping ground.
Banfield fielded a very young side with the Arsenal first team in Champions League action on Wednesday evening. He handed a full Reserve debut to 16-year-old Cypriot youth international Efrem on the right side of midfield.
Fabrice Muamba was drafted into central defence in place of Sol Campbell and Sebastian Larsson was back in midfield to claim the captain's armband. Anthony Stokes partnered Bendtner in attack with Arturo Lupoli not involved. Ryan Garry missed out with a small knock but should be back "by the end of the week" according to Banfield.
It was a tale of two false starts for Arsenal - one at the beginning of each half. First, the Gunners were forced to start the game twice after Bendtner played the ball back straight from kick-off. The second was far more costly for the hosts, as a temporary lapse in concentration immediately after the break allowed Palace to establish a two-goal cushion.
The visitors started the brighter, with Black looking to impress against his former employers and Tyrone Berry causing Arsenal problems in the early exchanges. But the Arsenal rearguard trapped the Palace forward time and again as the offsides mounted for the South London outfit.
The first shot on goal was not until the quarter-hour mark however, as Black fired a free-kick straight at Vito Mannone in the Arsenal goal.
The Gunners then produced a lovely move which saw Patrick Cregg exchange passes with Larsson before finding Ryan Smith on the left. His whipped cross was just intercepted by David Wilkinson in the Palace goal as Bendtner looked to pounce.
But real clear-cut chances were few and far between in a tight - and sometimes scrappy - first half. Larsson was booked for a foul on Black before Stokes had Arsenal's chance of the half.
A long ball forward was delicately flicked on first-time by Bendtner, into the path of Stokes, but the ball wouldn't come down for the Republic of Ireland youth international and his attempted lob was smothered by the onrushing Wilkinson.
The first half drew to a close with Palace's Berry firing a shot just past the post from the right.
And the visitors began the second period as they had ended the first - on the attack. Just a minute in and Black found himself with time and space on the left of the Arsenal box. He picked out Grabban, and the young striker tucked his shot inside the near-post past a helpless Mannone.
Sean Kelly then saw yellow for a trip on Berry, before Palace doubled their advantage. Black swung in a corner, Marco Reich flicked the ball on at the near post and Grabban rose to head his, and his side's, second goal.
The visitors looked menacing and likely to increase their advantage but, after weathering the storm, Arsenal came storming back. Banfield swapped Smith and Stokes in an astute tactical change to provide Arsenal with more pace up front.
Larsson and Cregg combined before Bendtner attacked from the left. His powerful run to the by-line culminated in a low cross across the six-yard box and there was Efrem to tap in on his debut.
Palace were wobbling now, but it was an Arsenal player who was tumbled over. Efrem, full of confidence after his goal, found himself on the left. As he surged into the box he was upended by Berry.
The referee immediately signalled for a spot-kick and Bendtner stepped up to claim his fifth goal this season, side-footing into the bottom-right corner of the net.
There were chances at both ends after that, Cregg shot over, a great cross from Efrem just evaded Bendtner and the outstanding Matthew Connolly cleared from under his own bar with almost the last kick of the game.
The future looks bright for both these London sides.
- Efrem Goal!
- Bendtner Goal!