By Nick Teale
Sol Campbell pulled on an Arsenal shirt on Tuesday night for the first time since May 2006 and completed 45 minutes as the Gunners' second string defeated their West Ham counterparts 4-2 at Upton Park.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas hit a hat-trick and Emmanuel Frimpong was also on target as Neil Banfield's side moved to within just two points of Aston Villa at the top of the Premier Reserve League South.
The Gunners were 2-0 up at half-time but two penalties saw West Ham level the scores. However Arsenal weren't done and Frimpong restored their lead before Emmanuel-Thomas added a fourth in stoppage time.
It was a fine performance from the visitors but the big story was Campbell's return. The 35-year-old has been training with Arsène Wenger's squad and played tonight after securing a Reserve League registration while talks continue over the prospect of a permanent move back to Arsenal.
Campbell's first action came just two minutes in when he shielded the ball from Freddie Sears and minutes later he dispossessed Fabio Daprela as the full back charged forward through the midfield.
A handful of 20-yard efforts were all that Arsenal had to show despite dominating possession in the opening quarter of the game. Mark Randall and Gilles Sunu tried their luck. The former's shot was held by the Hammers' keeper and the latter's attempt was drilled just wide of goal.
With 25 minutes on the clock Fran Merida took the Gunners' first corner of the match. It was a teasing delivery from the 19-year-old but just a little high for anyone to make a connection.
Just minutes later a second corner was delivered slightly lower by the Spanish midfielder and Arsenal had the lead as Emmanuel-Thomas rose highest to meet it. His powerful glancing header from the near post beat Marek Stech
Moments later the West Ham keeper was retrieving the ball from the back of his net again.
Kerrea Gilbert fed Emmanuel-Thomas down the right wing and last season's FA Youth Cup-winning captain cut inside to work himself into a shooting position. From the edge of the six-yard box the 19-year-old fired his left-footed shot into the back of the net to cap a slick Arsenal move and double the visitors' lead.
The hosts' best chance of the first-half arrived in the 40th minute when Daprela crossed to Sears. However the England youth international sliced his shot over the bar.
Campbell was withdrawn at half-time and Ignasi Miquel was introduced in his place. Mark Randall also came off with Frimpong entering the fray.
Ten minutes after the break the Hammers were back in it. A late follow-through in the area was penalised and Sears had an opportunity to make it 2-1 from the spot. The young striker made no mistake and though Vito Mannone dived the right way, the spot-kick was too well placed for the Italian to reach.
In the 78th minute Kyle Bartley was harshly adjudged to have mis-timed what look to be an inch-perfect tackle on a West Ham forward. Sears stepped up to take the penalty once again and this time went to Mannone's left to score the Hammers' equaliser.
But just five minutes later Arsenal's lead was restored. Frimpong collected the ball 20 yards from goal and powered a well-placed shot into the bottom corner of the net.
With two minutes left Merida almost sealed the points with an effort from 10 yards, slight left of goal. The Spaniard looked for the far corner but Stech's good reflexes saw him make an impressive save.
And in stoppage time the victory was ensured as Emmanuel-Thomas completed his hat trick with a left-footed drive across goal.
It was a convincing and dominant display from Banfield's side who were inspired rather than distracted by the star turn in their starting XI. And at the halfway stage of the season the Gunners' second string sit just two points behind leaders Villa.
Extended highlights plus post-match reaction will be available on Arsenal TV Online from Wednesday.
- Campbell 46
- Randall 46
- Emmanuel-Thomas Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Miquel 46
- Frimpong 46 Goal!
West Ham Res
- Payne 80
- Sears Goal!
- Abdulla 80 Yellow Card
- McNaughton 67 67 Goal!