By Adam Clark
Gael Clichy and Philippe Senderos made comebacks as Arsenal Reserves left it late to see off West Ham United 2-1 at Upton Park on Tuesday night.
Both players were making their first start of the season after injury. Clichy (foot) was brought off as planned at half time but Senderos (shoulder) came through an entire 90 minutes.
It was not a wholly satisfying performance from Neil Banfield's side but they did manage to maintain their unbeaten start to the campaign. Jeremie Aliadiere expertly put Arsenal ahead on the stroke of half time only to see the home side pull level after the restart through Tony Stokes. But, with just five minutes remaining, Joe O'Ceaurill diverted home Mark Randall's long-range shot to give the points to the visitors. They move ahead of Reading at the top of the Premier Reserve League south table.
The Arsenal side boasted much more experience than their London rivals. Apart from Clichy and Senderos, Manuel Almunia started in goal. Spanish playmaker Fran Merida was reinstalled in central midfield after moving out wide to accommodate Denilson in the 2-0 Reserve victory over Portsmouth.
Arsenal made the better start. On 12 minutes Jay Simpson held off his marker but saw his measured shot turned away by goalkeeper Robert Green, himself back from injury.
Two minutes later, Aliadiere's pace sliced through the West Ham rearguard but again Green got down well to save.
Almunia's goal came under threat from an ambitious long-range effort from Hogan Ephraim on 19 minutes as the game became increasingly even.
On 34 minutes Kyel Reid jinked past Matthew Connolly but the striker's drive across goal was cleared by Senderos.
Two minutes later Arsenal nearly took the lead. O'Ceaurill's throughball bounced perfectly for Armand Traore to delicately lift the ball over Green only for the ball to drop agonisingly wide.
From the very next attack the home side nearly broke the deadlock themselves. O'Ceaurill's clearance only found Jack Jeffrey but Almunia was alert to block the striker's volley with his knees.
On 44 minutes the grounded Aliadiere swivelled to provide Traore with another golden opportunity, the 16-year-old dragged his shot wide.
However Arsenal did manage to beat Green before the break.
Aliadiere received the ball deep inside the visitors' half and set off on a run. The jet-heeled Frenchman burst past three players and into the box before blasting his fifth goal in three Reserve appearances this season.
The goal was a maybe a little tough on the home side who had good reason to be pleased with their first-half showing.
After a cagey start to the second half from both sides, West Ham came close to a leveller on 57 minutes. Ephraim showed quick feet before digging out a 20-yard shot that Almunia did well to tip away.
Dutchman Nacer Barazite was introduced on 62 minutes and almost made an immediate impact. Merida showed his vision to slide in the 16-year-old but he skewed his shot wide.
Six minutes later West Ham were awarded a free-kick 40 yards out and the impressive Ephraim delivered an inch-perfect cross for Stokes to crash home a bullet-header and bring the home side level.
To their credit, Arsenal pushed hard for the winner. On 76 minutes Simpson found space with some nifty footwork only to be impeded by Barazite as he shaped to shoot. Seven minutes later Senderos came close with a header.
The visitors grabbed the winner with their next attack. An Arsenal corner fell to Randall 25 yards out and his shot into a crowded area was diverted past Green courtesy of the slightest of touches from O'Ceaurill.
Stokes had a chance to restore parity once again late on but this time Almunia came out on top.
The Gunners had their third win of the season.
Subscribers can watch extended highlights of the match on Arsenal TV Online from Wednesday afternoon.
Senderos makes a welcome return
As does Clichy
Aliadiere nets the opener
Connolly is strong in the challenge
Simpson slides in for a tackle
Randall on the ball
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- Clichy 45
- Barazite 52
- van den Berg 52
- Merida Yellow Card
- Simpson 79
- Efrem 45
- Fonte 79