By Declan Taylor
Arsenal’s French connection got the Gunners off to the perfect start in the Reserve League South at Underhill on Monday night.
Gilles Sunu opened the scoring with a rasping drive six minutes before the break then turned provider for compatriot Francis Coquelin moments later.
Young English winger Roarie Deacon - making his home second-string bow - added a late third within two minutes of entering the action, but it was the Gallic duo who did the damage.
Last season the Reserves started the campaign with a topsy-turvy 3-2 defeat here against Chelsea. Perhaps this assured performance suggests that Neil Banfield’s boys have made serious strides over the last 12 months.
And, although he admits that winning games is not the be-all and end-all at this level, the manager will be delighted with the manner of his side’s richly-deserved victory.
With all of last season’s loanees now back at the Club, Banfield had quite a large pool from which to pick from on the night.
Straight into the side came Nacer Barazite and Kerrea Gilbert, who spent all of 2008/09 on-loan at Derby and Leicester respectively while Jay Simpson, fresh from a three-month spell at West Brom, started up front.
Injury put paid to all of Kyle Bartley’s pre-season campaign but the Manchester-born defender, captain for the evening, slotted straight in at centre-half.
The opening exchanges were even but uneventful. Sunu and Barazite, who swapped wings throughout, looked Arsenal’s most threatening outlets early on.
Fulham were operating mainly on the counter-attack but should have taken the lead after nine minutes when hulking defender Matthew Briggs thudded his free header a yard wide.
Then a minute later Conor Henderson, making his full debut for the Reserves, almost provided the opener but his delightful curling free-kick just evaded the onrushing Sunu six yards out.
Coquelin was deployed in the ‘Alex Song’ role just in front of the back-four but he was starting to excel on the front foot too. In the 28th minute the young Frenchman weaved down the byline but saw his cute cut-back hacked off Barazite’s toes. Simpson’s vicious follow-up was somehow blocked on the line.
The visitors were still struggling to create and Luca Mosctaiello’s attempted lob in the 33rd minute, which dropped a good 10 yards wide of Wojciech Szczesny’s post, summed up their first-half efforts.
Six minutes before the break, the Gunners deservedly took the lead. Sunu gathered Bartley's long diagonal pass on the left-hand side, charged through a rather static Fulham backline and speared a vicious effort high into Neil Etheridge’s net.
And he wasn’t finished there.
The winger turned provider two minutes later when his inch-perfect corner was glanced home by Coquelin at the front post. A goal made and finished in France.
The Gunners’ grip on the game didn’t loosen after the interval but Fulham could have made their task easier within two minutes of the restart. However, former-Arsenal Academy player Michael Uwezu slid a front-post effort across the face of goal.
Although Arsenal’s possession was unrelenting at times, they were lacking incision in the final third.
Banfield introduced the clinical Rhys Murphy just past the hour and his impact was very nearly instant. The England youth international teed up Simpson on the edge of the box but his swiveling effort was too easy for Etheridge.
However, it was another substitute who got Arsenal’s long-awaited third.
Deacon, who scored for the Under-18s at the weekend, played a neat one-two with Murphy on the edge of the box before stroking an unstoppable left-foot strike into the top corner. The rapid winger has consistently caught the eye at Academy level and seemed unbothered by the step up.
Barazite, now a relative senior at this level, almost added a fourth in stoppage time but saw two efforts clawed round the post by Etheridge.
Even without that fourth, Arsenal had started as they mean to go on.
- Miquel 69
- Coquelin Goal!
- Henderson 64
- Sunu Goal!
- Simpson 79
- Evina 69
- Murphy 64
- Deacon 79
- Smalling Yellow Card
- Anderson 90
- Harris 79
- Pierre 90
- Reece 85
- Smith 85
- Owusu-Ansah 79