By Nick Teale
Arsenal to within two points of Aston Villa at the top of Premier Reserve League South with a 1-0 win over 10-man Stoke City on Wednesday night.
Nacer Barazite gave the Gunners an early lead before Diego Arismendi was dismissed for a headbutt on Fran Merida shortly before half time.
Kyle Bartley's loan departure to Sheffield United earlier in the week had meant that the captain's armband had been vacated. Manager Neil Banfield handed it to Luke Ayling, who started at centre-half alongside Ignasi Miquel.
Francis Coquelin continued in his experimental right-back role, while Fran Merida returned from an ankle injury in the midfield. Another man returning from a spell on the sidelines was Barazite, who started on the right side of the front three. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was up front once again after his hat-trick in the Reserves' 4-2 win over West Ham last time out.
The hosts handed a start to goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who joined the Potters from Portsmouth for £3.25million on transfer deadline day last week. Also in their XI were Uruguayan international Diego Arismendi, defender Andrew Davies and midfielder Amdy Faye. All have feature regularly in Stoke's first team this season.
It didn’t take Arsenal long to lead at Nantwich. In the eighth minute Gilles Sunu burst through the middle but his pass left towards Emmanuel-Thomas was intercepted. However, the loose ball fell to Barazite, who chipped the ball into the roof of the net from 20 yards to give the Gunners an early lead.
Just two minutes later the hosts could have been level, and striker Louis Moult would have been disappointed not to have at least tested Vito Mannone after Tom Urwin played him through. Moult was one-on-one with Arsenal's Italian shot-stopper but sliced his attempt on goal, sending it both high and wide of the target.
In the 16th minute Sunu sprinted down the left wing for Arsenal but his touch as he entered the area was a little too heavy and the ball ran through to the Stoke keeper before the Frenchman could catch up with it.
Midway through the first half Matthew Lund played in Moult, but the Stoke striker once again miscued his shot and sent it over the bar from a promising position for the second time in the game.
In the 34th minute Frimpong set Merida away on the right. The Spaniard burst forward to find Emmanuel-Thomas, who in turn picked out Barazite entering the area on the left. The Dutch youth international shaped to strike across goal but had his low shot held by Begovic.
The sending off came with just two minutes to go until half-time. Arismendi was the man dismissed after an off-the-ball headbutt on Merida. The referee spotted it and instantly produced the red card. Sunu smashed the resulting free kick into the wall from 25 yards out.
Stoke's first corner after the break presented them with a close-range shooting opportunity when the initial cross fell low to Lund a matter of yards from goal. The winger took his shot on the turn but slipped as he did so, sending the ball wide of goal.
Shortly after the hour mark Banfield made his first change of the night, introducing prolific youth league marksman Luke Freeman in place of goalscorer Barazite. And in the 74th minute, the striker almost doubled Arsenal's lead.
Collecting an incisive pass over the Stoke backline from Frimpong, Freeman bore down on goal, turned inside his marker but then fired his shot almost straight at Begovic.
The chance galvanised Arsenal, who had created little in the second half. Moments later Frimpong stormed through the middle, and after touches from Freeman and Merida, the ball found its way to Sunu on the right wing.
The 18-year-old looked up, and seeing the keeper slightly off his line, tried to beat him with a lofted shot. However, Begovic was alert to the danger and stepped backwards to claim the ball.
Sunu had another chance in the 81st minute but his 20-yard effort kept rising from the moment he hit it, and was too high to trouble the keeper by the time it had sailed its intended distance.
Two minutes later, Stoke almost found an equaliser. Alex Hedley floated a free kick into the box from deep on the left. Davies knocked it down at the back post for Lund, whose close-range shot was well blocked at the near post.
Banfield then made his final two substitutions of the evening, introducing Nico Yennaris and Conor Henderson into the midfield. Eastmond and Merida were the men who made way.
Stoke were then awarded a free-kick 20 yards from goal, but Nathaniel Wedderburn's left-footed effort curled straight into Mannone's hands.
Arsenal had one last opportunity in stoppage time, a free kick from 25 yards out, which Sunu attempted to curl into the top corner. However, Begovic shuffled across his goal line to make a comfortable jumping save.
It was the final act of the game, and while Arsenal didn’t extend their lead after the red card, the result keeps them in contention for the Reserve League title.
- Ayling (C)
- Barazite 63 Goal!
- Merida 85
- Eastmond 85
- Yennaris 85
- Henderson 85
- Freeman 63
Stoke City Res
- Arismendi Red Card
- Hedley 90
- Lund Yellow Card
- Moult Yellow Card
- Urwin 46
- Stockhall 90
- Mitchell 46