By Declan Taylor
Fran Merida’s delightful chip earned Arsenal Reserves a point in their penultimate game of the season against West Brom on Wednesday night.
The Spaniard, fresh from a Premier League outing at the weekend, scooped his side into the lead after 34 minutes against an experienced Baggies backline at the Hawthorns.
However, nine minutes after the break, talented youngster Romaine Sawyers slotted the home side’s equaliser after Vito Mannone could only club Luke Moore’s fierce effort into his path.
Merida’s first goal of the season was only the second-string’s second since January but they were unable to secure their first victory of 2009.
But they won’t have to wait long for another chance; West Brom are the visitors to Underhill on Monday in the season’s final clash.
Returning loan players and imminent Under-18s commitments ensured a much-changed Reserves line-up at the Hawthorns.
Kyle Bartley was the only remaining member of the back five that faced Tottenham in April and he partnered 16-year-old Ignasi Miquel, making his Reserve team debut, in central defence. Elsewhere, Rui Fonte, Abu Ogogo and Rene Steer, fresh from loan spells in the lower leagues, all started.
Although many of the FA Youth Cup regulars were omitted on the night, Sanchez Watt almost provided an identical start to April’s Semi-Final second leg against Manchester City. On that occasion he broke the deadlock inside the first minute. This time, the striker’s 25th-second effort was tipped round the post by veteran keeper Dean Kiely.
That chance was the prelude for a tirade of West Brom pressure. Twice, the talented Filipe Teixeira tested Vito Mannone from distance before Bartley somehow turned Roman Bednar’s testing cross over the bar only a yard from the line.
Arsenal had to wait until the 25th minute for their next sight of goal. This time it was Merida who scampered onto Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ through-ball but the Spaniard could only lift his strike inches over the bar with only Kiely to beat.
However, after 10 minutes and another flurry of long-range West Brom efforts , Merida made amends for the miss.
Once again it was Emmanuel-Thomas who glided past two challenges in the middle before feeding the Spanish Under-19 international. And, although his first touch took him away from goal, the midfielder scooped a sumptuous right-foot effort over the advancing Kiely.
It may have been against the run of play but it was just reward for one of the moves of the match.
There was time for Teixeira to once again test Mannone from distance but another flying save from the Italian kept the Gunners ahead at the interval.
Although it was Arsenal who emerged brightest from the break, they relinquished their lead within nine minutes of the restart.
Mannone produced yet another magnificent save from a well-struck Moore effort but this time Sawyers was on hand to sweep home the rebound from 15 yards despite the best endeavours of Ogogo on the line.
Once again the home side began to assert both their physical and age advantage, with Bednar, who has six Premier League goals this term, the main protagonist.
First the Czech international nodded Do-Heon Kim’s free-kick a yard wide before rattling the crossbar with a swirling effort from 20 yards just after the hour-mark.
The visitors would once again find their feet. But, although they enjoyed the lion's share of possession, a lack of final-third invention and a stern Baggies backline made gilt-edged chances hard to come by.
In fact, four minutes of added time had been indicated before either side fashioned a meaningful chance but Teixeira’s free-kick was easily claimed by Mannone.
Bednar almost had the last laugh moments later but his clumsy effort looped just wide of the post deep into stoppage time.
- Bartley 58
- Steer Yellow Card
- Randall (C)
- Merida Goal!
- Miquel Yellow Card
- Watt 70
- Emmanuel-Thomas 58
- Ayling 58
- Evina 70
- Sunu 58
West Brom Res
- Cech 73
- Sawyers 86 Goal!
- Kim 86 Yellow Card
- Wood 86
- Manton 86
- Samuels 73