By Declan Taylor
Arsenal Reserves were unlucky to claim only a point against 10-man Chelsea in a pulsating London derby at Griffin Park.
Despite the lack of goals, both sides moved the ball with vigour and goalkeepers Wojciech Szczesny and Jan Sebek were kept warm on a chilly evening in Middlesex.
Slovakian winger Miroslav Stoch was dismissed 15 minutes from time for kicking out at Craig Eastmond but Arsenal could not press home their numerical advantage.
It may be four games without a goal for Neil Banfield’s boys but the manager will be encouraged by his side’s invention in the final third.
He reacted to the home defeat against West Ham a fortnight ago with five changes to his starting line-up.
Mikael Silvestre made his second reserve-team start of the season alongside the dependable Kyle Bartley at the centre of defence while Tom Cruise came in at left back.
Fran Merida got the nod alongside Emmanuel Frimpong in the centre of midfield with captain Mark Randall and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas occupying the flanks. Gilles Sunu, currently away on international duty, was replaced by Sanchez Watt who started up front alongside Amaury Bischoff in an orthodox 4-4-2.
Although Spring officially started over the weekend, it was a very wintry wind that swept across Griffin Park.
The visitors adapted much the quickest and testing deliveries from the left and right wings narrowly evaded Watt within the first five minutes. The striker then almost capitalised on a slip in the Chelsea backline but fired his effort just over when one-on-one with Sebek.
The jitters in the home side’s backline showed no signs of abating and Emmanuel-Thomas speared a back-post volley into the floor before Bischoff forced a flying save from Sebek with a delicate curling effort.
Chelsea’s first meaningful attack came through the lively Florent Malouda who rode Silvestre’s challenge on the edge of the area but saw his low effort clawed to safety by Wojciech Szczesny, playing his first reserve fixture since October 6.
Then Eastmond and Emmanuel-Thomas both sent fierce efforts flashing wide of Stebek’s goal either side of the best chance of the half for Merida.
In the 28th minute, the Spaniard, set up by a neat touch from Watt, burst into the area before lifting the ball over the advancing keeper. However, with the feintest of touches, Stebek managed to divert the effort just wide of goal.
Emmanuel-Thomas went just as close three minutes before the break when he connected with Merida’s cross at the front post. Unfortunately for the Youth Cup captain, his looping header dropped agonisingly wide of the back post.
Chelsea emerged from the interval with renewed vigour and purpose. Both Mineiro and Patrick van Aanholt stung the hands of Szczesny within 90 seconds of the restart.
It was the second-string’s third consecutive London derby and this one was the liveliest of the trio. As Chelsea came forward, the Gunners responded in kind. A neat combination from Bischoff and Watt ended with the latter firing over from just inside the area.
Stoch had looked like the home side’s most potent threat, particularly after the break, but the Slovakian was dismissed 15 minutes from time for a retaliatory kick at Eastmond.
The Gunners did their best to make the man advantage count and had their hosts on the back foot for most of the closing stages. Bischoff flashed a volley straight into the arms of Stebek before substitute James Dunne had a shout for a penalty turned down when he was sent sprawling by Ben Gordon two minutes from time.
Despite their possession, Arsenal were unable to fashion any gilt-edged opportunities and Chelsea clung on for a point.
- Eastmond Yellow Card
- Merida 71
- Watt Yellow Card
- Dunne 71
- Jan Sebek
- Nana Ofori-Twumasi
- Ben Gordon
- Jeffrey Bruma
- Patrick van Aanholt
- Frank Nouble
- Liam Bridcutt (C)
- Di Santo
- Stoch Red Card
- Sam Walker
- Jacob Mellis
- Tom Taiwo
- Ricardo Fernandes
- Fabio Borini