By Nick Teale
A very young Arsenal Reserves side suffered their third consecutive defeat on Tuesday night, going down 1-0 at Fulham after Eddie Johnson converted a 77th-minute penalty.
The result was perhaps an unfair reflection on an even game of few chances.
After a superb start to the season the Gunners had not won in three games before tonight and manager Neil Banfield fielded an even younger side than usual at this level.
With a host of second-string regulars in Arsenal's 18-man squad travelling to Olympiacos, this game was an opportunity for a host of regulars in Steve Bould's Under-18s side to make their mark at the slightly higher level.
Sanchez Watt captained the side and was joined in attack by Luke Freeman and Chuks Aneke, who has been prolific so far this season for the Under-18s.In midfield Roarie Deacon and Conor Henderson joined Emmanuel Frimpong.
Daniel Boateng and Ignasi Miquel were at centre half with Cedric Evina at left back and right back Sead Hajrovic making his Reserves debut. James Shea was in goal.
With seven minutes gone Fulham striker Johnson was presented with the first opportunity of the game. Drifting in at the back post, the United States international's headed effort was wide of the mark.
Moments later Aneke had Arsenal's first shot of the game but it was straight into the hands of Cottagers keeper David Stockdale.
The game became one of few chances. Midway through the first period Freeman attacked with pace on the left flank and sent a dangerous cross towards the back post but it was headed clear by Fulham.
Aneke had another 20-yard effort with 10 minutes of the first half remaining but again Stockdale held it.
The Gunners' best chance of the half came just 60 seconds before the break when Frimpong hit a 25-yard free kick a matter of inches over the crossbar.
The second started slowly and after 65 minutes Banfield made his first substitution with Aneke making way for Oguzhan Ozyakup.
With 20 minutes remaining Conor Henderson delivered to the edge of the six-yard box from deep on the left but Freeman was unable to make a full connection and the opportunity was gone.
In the 77th minute Fulham were awarded a penalty after Kagisho Dikgacoi went down under the aerial challenge of Boateng. Johnson stepped up to take the penalty and sent Shea the wrong way to give Fulham the lead.
Minutes later Johnson almost doubled the hosts' advantage. Bursting into the area he was met by the on-rushing Shea who made the save.
Banfield made a second substitution with three minutes remaining, Benik Afobe coming on for Deacon.
Arsenal continued to battle and fought until the final kick to gain an equaliser. In the 89th minute Watt burst into the box but after being forced wide by Stockdale his cross was headed clear.
Arsenal were awarded a last-minute free kick in the edge of the 'D' but Watt stuck it into the wall.
It was the Gunners' last opportunity of the game and they still trail Aston Villa by five points at the top of the table. However, given the age of the Arsenal side, this was still a positive night at Motspur Park.
- Frimpong Yellow Card
- Deacon 87
- Watt (C)
- Aneke 65
- Ozyakup 65
- Afobe 87
- Pierre Yellow Card
- Johnson Goal!
- Seol 5
- Hoesen 83
- 83 5