By Declan Taylor
Eduardo played 45 minutes for Arsenal Reserves as they overcame a stubborn Portsmouth side at a boistrous Underhill on Tuesday night.
The Croatian showed glimpses of his quality as he completed the first half and was only a post’s width away from marking his return with a goal.
In the end, it was Mark Randall who breached Portsmouth when he coolly slotted home 10 minutes from time.
Kieran Gibbs wrapped up the victory in stoppage time with his first Reserve team strike of the campaign.
Jay Simpson was the man chosen to partner the returning Eduardo up front while Rui Fonte, goalscorer in the Reserves’ last outing against Fulham, dropped to the bench.
Aaron Ramsey, making his first appearance in the Arsenal second-string since his summer transfer from Cardiff City, came in as part of the same midfield quartet that went down 2-0 at Burnley in the Carling Cup Quarter Final on December 2.
Gavin Hoyte celebrated signing a new long-term contract at the Club with a start alongside Paul Rodgers in the centre of defence. Francis Coquelin, who has been utilised mainly in the ‘engine room’, slotted into an unfamiliar right-back berth while Gibbs came in on the left. Carling Cup captain Lukasz Fabianski got the nod between the sticks.
Eduardo’s presence ensured a crackling atmosphere not witnessed in a second-string encounter yet this term. The Croatian’s movement and trickery oozed the class that justified his fluorescent green footwear and he almost earned his side a penalty within the first five minutes but referee Thompson deemed Callum Reynolds’ challenge legal.
The two sides are only separated by goal difference in the Premier Reserve League and it showed in the opening exchanges. long-range efforts were all that either team could muster with Simpson and Ramsey both trying their luck from well outside the area while Marlon Pack followed suit at the other end.
In fact, the noisy Underhill crowd had to wait until just past the half-hour for the game’s first meaningful chance. Jack Wilshere, who had shown glimpses of his Champions League quality from the off, found Simpson with an inch-perfect pass between Portsmouth’s centre half and left back. The 20-year-old took the ball in his stride but his fierce drive was straight at Asmir Begovic who was able to beat the ball to safety.
After providing the first half’s opening talking point, Eduardo provided the half’s last one too. Collecting the ball from the left flank, the 25-year-old wriggled free of two Pompey defenders before stroking an effort towards Begovic’s bottom right-hand corner. However, a combination of the goalkeeper’s fingertips and the base of the post kept the scores level.
It would be the striker’s last contribution of his long-awaited comeback as he was replaced by Amaury Bischoff at the interval.
With Eduardo gone it was time for the less-senior Gunners to take centre stage. Wilshere and Simpson combined brilliantly just inside the area but the former could only curl his left-foot shot inches wide of the post.
Arsenal’s domination was unwavering and Pompey were reliant on long diagonal balls to Chelsea loanee Ben Sahar. However, more often than not, he was stopped in his tracks by the linesman’s flag.
The visitors had kept Arsenal at bay with two solid banks of four throughout the first half and it was much the same after the break. Mark Randall, Wilshere and Ramsey were continually thwarted on the edge of the area by superb last-ditch Portsmouth defending.
Ramsey tried his best to finally breach them in the 72nd minute but he was twice crowded out a mere four yards from the goal line.
But eight minutes later it was the Welshman’s midfield partner Randall who finally broke the deadlock.
The 20-year-old latched onto a superb Merida through-ball before coolly sliding a low effort underneath the advancing Begovic. It was a finish that Eduardo would have been proud of.
The goal did nothing to quell the Gunners’ pressure and Gibbs added the icing on the cake deep into stoppage time with a wonderful strike from the edge of the area.
- Gibbs Goal!
- Randall Goal!
- Ramsey 86
- Eduardo 45
- Simpson 60
- Lansbury 86
- Fonte 60
- Bischoff 45
- Carter 65
- Alors 55
- Kilbey 65
- Hughes 55