By Adam Clark

Arsenal Reserves slipped to their fifth league defeat in succession as they were outmuscled by a powerful Watford at Boreham Wood FC on Monday.

Much like last Monday's 3-0 defeat against Tottenham, the Gunners second string combined good touches with probing forward play but came unstuck against physically superior opponents.

Vito Mannone had already saved an Albert Jarrett penalty when his fumble allowed Liam Henderson to convert and although, Arsenal's young side endeavoured, they were denied by some resilient Watford defending.

With Wednesday's Carling Cup Semi-Final second leg in mind, Reserve team coach Neil Banfield once again invested his faith in the bulk of Steve Bould's Under-18s side, and made just three changes. In came Fran Merida. Vincent van den Berg and Kieran Gibbs for Giorgos Efrem, Nacer Barazite and Henri Lansbury.

Arsenal set about dictating the pace of play and looked eager to impress with Arsène Wenger sat watching in the stands. Nevertheless, it was Watford who created first, on 14 minutes, only for Jarrett to head wide when unmarked at the back post.

Arsenal's response was instant and Watford keeper Scott Loach had to be alert to turn Jay Simpson's low drive around the post.

On 18 minutes, the hosts were awarded a penalty after Paul Rodgers chopped down the tricky Dominic Blizzard but Mannone was the saviour, diving low to his left and grabbing hold of Jarrett's spot-kick.

The chance to make amends for the penalty miss arrived on 21 minutes but somehow Henderson headed wide with Mannone stranded. The striker made no mistake just three minutes later however, stroking in from six-yards after the Arsenal keeper spilt Jarrett's corner.

Six minutes before the break Blizzard's close-range volley nearly made it two but Rodgers was in the right place to block, and Gavin Hoyte swept up the danger.

The near miss brought Arsenal to life and they enjoyed easily there best spell of the game.

Merida's rasping drive from the edge of the box whistled past the post and James Dunne provided two inviting crosses but the half-time whistle ended Arsenal's assault.

The second half proved a similar tale as substitute Rui Fonte, on for Dunne, became the latest player to struggle against Watford's sturdy spine. It resulted in more Watford pressure and Robinson had another chance to extend the lead on the hour. This time Rene Steer was on hand to clear away.

On 64 minutes Randall's searching ball found Simpson on the right but the striker's cross whistled past Fonte's forehead. Soon after Giorgos Efrem's trickery earned him a snapshot on goal and with the next attack Randall clattered the crossbar from 25-yards.

Van den Berg and Fonte had further efforts for the Gunners and Mannone pushed away a fierce Blizzard drive on 75 minutes to keep the deficit at one.

The impressive Efrem looked the most likely to provide for the visitors and with 13 minutes remaining he centred a cross which Van den Berg headed over.

It was Arsenal's last chance of note as the hosts looked to play out the dying minutes. It was another battle that went in their favour.

Arsenal U23

Merida Yellow Card
Gibbs 45
Dunne 51
van den Berg


Efrem 45
Fonte 51
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29 Jan 2007