By Adam Clark
A thunderous strike from Armand Traore saw Arsenal claim a morale-boosting victory in their Premier Reserve League South opener at Fulham on Thursday.
Jay Simpson's emphatic strike put the young Gunners ahead after just 58 seconds before left-back Traore doubled the lead with a magical 30-yard pile-driver. The Cottagers pulled one back from the penalty spot on the stroke half-time but a fine defensive performance, inspired by debutant Havard Nordtveit, ensured a winning start to the new season.
Nine of Arsenal's youthful starting XI were second-string regulars. However in Nicklas Bendtner, Mark Randall and the matchwinner Traore, manager Neil Banfield had first-team experience at his disposal. It proved to be vital.
Bendtner was the second string's top scorer in the 2005/06 season before spending a year on loan at Birmingham City. Returning to the side for the first time in nearly 18 months the Danish international made an immediate impact.
Receiving the ball from midfielder Nacer Barazite, Bendtner had the awareness to clip a pass neatly into the path of Simpson. Moving in from the inside-right channel the 18-year-old, a scorer of two goals for the Reserves last season, lashed the ball past keeper Corrin Brookes-Meade. Two fine first touches had resulted in a splendid goal.
The visitors looked bright with Traore particularly impressive. The Frenchman offered an indication of what was to come 14 minutes in: meeting a loose ball 40-yards from goal he powered a first-time shot within two feet of the crossbar.
Simpson went close soon after following good work from Barazite, and Kieran Gibbs demonstrated why he was selected to play against Inter Milan in the Emirates Cup: shifting the ball with his left foot before arrowing a right-footed shot just inches wide.
On 27 minutes Adrian Leijer fouled Bendtner 35 yards from goal. James Dunne teed up Traore and this time his effort was spot on. The ball sailed past the wall and continued on a path into the top corner.
Two goals down, Fulham slowly worked their way into the game for the first time and were rewarded two minutes into injury time. Wayne Brown took a tumble under pressure from Gibbs and the referee had little hesitation in pointing to the spot. Brown picked himself up to confidently stroke the ball beyond the reach of keeper Vito Mannone.
If the first half had been about the efficiency and fluidity of Arsenal's attack, the second 45 minutes highlighted their assuredness in defence. Marshalled by the outstanding Nordveit, Arsenal's backline proved impenetrable. The Norwegian - made captain by Banfield - refused to be flustered, exuding a calmness that spread through the team.
The Gunners switched off just once, three minutes after the break, but went unpunished as Adam Watts poked his effort wide.
Eleven minutes later Brookes-Meade produced a decent stop low to his left to deny Bendtner. It was to be the striker's last chance before he was withdrawn and replaced by Rui Fonte.
On 78 minutes a flowing move involving five Arsenal players brought rare excitement in a second half which failed to live up to the activity of the first.
Gibbs saw a decent effort deflected over with eight minutes remaining but Banfield's charges found clear chances progressively harder to come by. There was one worrying moment in the dying seconds but Mannone, untested all night, remained alert to expertly deny Michael Timlin.
- Randall 37
- Bendtner 63
- Emmanuel-Thomas 37
- Fonte 63