By Nick Teale
Arsenal climbed to the top of the Reserve South League table with a 2-1 away win at Chelsea on Monday night.
Gilles Sunu's deflected second-half effort added to Luke Freeman's first second-string goal to seal the points, despite a late Chelsea surge.
Neil Banfield opted for a change in tactics for this match. The usual 4-3-3 Arsenal have been playing at every level this term was replaced with a 4-4-2 formation. There were a total of four changes to the team that won in Stoke last week. James Shea started in goal, with Cedric Evina, Conor Henderson and Freeman all coming in.
Arsenal started brightly with plenty of possession and a handful of chances. Four minutes in Henderson flicked the ball on for Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Freeman collected it from his fellow striker. The former Gillingham man unleashed a 20-yard shot but his effort sailed over the bar after rising late.
A handful of half-chances dominated the following 20 minutes. Barazite would probably have opened the scoring after the ball bounced off a couple of Chelsea defenders, but it landed just out of reach of the Dutchman's outstretched foot.
With 27 minutes on the clock Chelsea's Fabio Borini rattled the crossbar with a top-quality strike which moved just at the right time to take it away from keeper Shea. Struck from 20 yards, it closed in on its top-corner target, but rose just too much, crashing into the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Borini had another chance, and thought he had scored. Fed by Jacob Mellis from the left, he should have slotted home at first attempt from close range. However his scuffed first effort allowed Shea to get down in time to block the follow up. Borini argued that the ball had crossed the line, but the referee wasn't in agreement.
Then, six minutes before the break, Arsenal took the lead.
Emmanuel-Thomas come down the left and danced infield with a fine display of ball control. He bore down on goal and could have shot himself, but instead squared the ball to Freeman who netted his first Reserve-team goal from close range.
It was coolly slotted home by 17-year-old, but the goal was really all about Emmanuel-Thomas. His fine run and tight control pierced the Chelsea defence, and later in the game he would help create another goal in a similar manner.
In first-half stoppage time the hosts could have equalised. Borini closed in on goal, and Shea came to the edge of his area. However the Chelsea striker tried to lift it over Arsenal's No 1, and the keeper caught hold of the ball.
Shortly after the break Borini again smashed the ball against the woodwork, slamming the ball against the near post after a run down the right.
Arsenal managed to produce some slick, passing football on a pitch which looked worn out and torn up. In the 60th minute a move involving Emmanuel-Thomas and Barazite drew a corner, and Frimpong and Sunu both had efforts before, with 15 minutes to go, the Gunners doubled their lead.
Emmanuel-Thomas burst down the right to pick out Freeman. The striker in turn found Sunu and the Frenchman's deflected shot beat Rhys Taylor.
The game wasn't over though, as Chelsea hit back instantly. Borini's low cross was tapped in by Nemanja Matic and the Blues were back in it.
Roarie Deacon and Nico Yennaris were both introduced soon after as Banfield looked to steady things up by returning to the familiar 4-3-3, though Deacon and Sunu were a little deeper than the formation would suggest.
Chelsea pressed forward in the dying minutes, and though Katuta let fly from 18 yards, the Blues didn't really test Shea's ability as much as they would have liked.
Four minutes of added time may have spurred the hosts, but the final whistle confirmed Arsenal's third win in three in 2010.
The Gunners are now one point ahead of Aston Villa at the top of Reserve League South, though the Midlanders do have two games in hand.
- Ayling (C)
- Barazite 77
- Sunu 90 Goal!
- Freeman 79 Goal!
- Deacon 77
- Yennaris 79
- Ozyakup 90
- Philliskirk 84
- Matich Goal!
- Ahamed 84