By Andrew Verspeak
Arsenal Reserves began their season with a dramatic 3-2 home win against West Ham.
The away side led twice but Sebastian Larsson bagged a brace with a fantastic long-range free-kick and a neat finish before super sub Nicklas Bendtner grabbed the winner in injury time after a cross from the ever lively Quincy. Although Arsenal's third came late, it was just reward for a fine fightback in the second half.
Neil Banfield started the season with a relatively experienced side including Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue, Quincy, Lupoli and Larsson all with first-team experience.
David Bentley had been due to captain the side but the former Norwich loanee was withdrawn shortly before kick off and replaced in midfield by Patrick Cregg. For their part, West Ham featured a wealth of experience with Steve Lomas, Carl Fletcher and Malky Mackay.
The game started slowly and there was only one real chance in the first quarter of an hour.
After five minutes Arsenal earned the first corner, Quincy showed some neat footwork before threading through to Lupoli whose shot was blocked. A second corner shortly after forced the first real chance. Ryan Smith swung it in and Matthew Connolly rose to send a powerful header goalwards which was well parried by Matt Reed.
The Gunners enjoyed the majority of the possession but it was West Ham who opened the scoring after 24 minutes. James Collins picked up the ball deep and found Kyel Reid with a inch-perfect crossfield ball. Arsenal, temporarily down to 10 men through the loss of Connolly with a head injury, were caught short at the back.
The young winger whipped in a cross for Mikolanda who glanced a header onto the far post. Fortune favoured the East London side however, and Trent McClenahan was on hand to tap the ball in.
The Hammers nearly grabbed another moments later when Howard was caught out of position by Williams who tried an audacious chip from distance. It fell just the wrong side of the post.
Arsenal had rarely threatened other than from set-pieces but were nearly gifted a goal on the half hour. Reed, in the Hammers' goal, got in a terrible mix up after a back pass and gave the ball away to Lupoli. Nine times out of 10 you would back the Italian hitman to score but a perfectly-timed challenge from the keeper earned Arsenal only a corner.
As half-time approached Banfield's side began to look more dangerous. On 42 minutes Quincy found himself in space and broke down the middle. He found Lupoli who squared in the box but Darren Blewitt was on hand to clear off the line for West Ham.
Moments later the Gunners were level. Their persistence was rewarded with a free kick. It was some distance out, but there was only one thing on the mind of Larsson as he stepped up to take it. The Swede sent a sweet shot with his right foot inside the far post. Reed was rooted to the spot.
However the joy was short-lived. West Ham took the lead again when Fletcher crossed from the right wing and Sofiane was left alone in the box to head past Howard.
Still the Gunners did not give up. Smith, looking increasing lively, whipped in a ball and Lupoli saw his effort tipped over the bar by Reed.
Last season's top scorer should have levelled the scores again moments before the half time whistle. He rounded the keeper only to see Collins once more block his effort off the line.
Arsenal started the second half in exactly the same fashion as they finished the first and created an identical chance. Lupoli was again one-on-one with the keeper, again he went round him and again Blewitt was there to clear off of the line.
The game began to open up into the second period and Quincy's pace was starting to cause the away side some real problems. On 65 minutes the Dutch Under-21 international raced through the middle and saw his shot cannon back out off of the post.
Smith was next to go close for the Gunners, hurtling down the left before sending a low drive straight at Reed. But for all their pressure Arsenal still could not find that breakthrough.
With 10 minutes remaining Banfield threw on Danish striker Bendtner for winger Ryan Smith. It gave Arsenal an extra man up front.
Larsson at last levelled when Quincy, who had moved to the left to accommodate Bendtner, played him through eight yards from goal. The Swedish Under-21 international flicked the ball past the despairing keeper and into the net.
With their tails up Arsenal went for the kill. Quincy again cut the West Ham midfield apart and was crudely brought down by Mackay. Larsson was on his hat-trick but this time Reed got the better of him, holding on to his low free kick well.
But there was to be one last chance. Quincy drove a low ball across the face of goal from the right and Bendtner arrived on cue to thump home from close range. The comeback was complete.
- Cregg Yellow Card
- Smith 80
- Larsson Goal! Goal!
- Lupoli 86
- Bendtner 80 Goal!
- Stokes 86