By Giuseppe Muro at London Colney
The Reserves earned a measure of revenge for Thursday’s FA Youth Cup exit with a slender 1-0 win over Chelsea on Tuesday.
Just five days after the 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, Carlos Vela’s penalty in first-half injury time was enough to give Neil Banfield’s side their first win of the New Year in a humdrum affair at a bleak London Colney.
It was hardly a classic London derby but, after a disappointing week for the second-string, they won’t care a jot.
Banfield asked for character from his players following a heavy defeat at Aston Villa and that’s exactly what he got in a full-blooded encounter that lacked real spark.
The manager welcomed Vela into his starting XI as the Mexican forward keeps his match sharpness ahead of a possible January loan move. He supported lone striker Benik Afobe from the right.
Luke Freeman started his first game since returning from a spell at Yeovil and there was also a place for Thomas Cruise at left back.
James Shea joined up with the first team so Emilio Martinez started between the posts.
Vela looked lively early on and his volley forced a smart stop from Ross Turnbull at his near post after just seven minutes.
As the first half progressed and the rain poured down, Arsenal began to control the tempo without really penetrating the Chelsea back line.
Then, within the space of a couple of minutes, Banfield’s side twice went close to going ahead.
Vela showed his class to put Oguzhan Ozyakup in on goal with a wonderful slide-rule pass. The Dutch midfielder’s touch was slightly heavy and Turnbull rushed off his line to snuff out the danger.
A minute later, Afobe had a golden opportunity to get the opener but he got his bearings wrong and guided a header horribly wide from close range.
As the clock ticked into stoppage time, a fleeting piece of play from Freeman won his side a penalty. The former Gillingham man burst into the area and had his feet taken from beneath him by Turnbull - the referee had no option but to point to the spot.
Freeman and Vela disputed who would take the spot kick.
Vela won the argument, waited for the goalkeeper to go down and nonchalantly rolled the ball past him. On the balance of play, Arsenal fully deserved their lead.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first. Arsenal in control with goalkeeper Martinez a spectator.
Ten minutes after the restart, Afobe pounced on a mistake from a defender but ran wide before scuffing a harmless effort as he slipped.
Vela twice went close, firstly with a free kick that curled inches wide and then a deft chip that Turnbull desperately clawed behind.
The best Chelsea could offer was a speculative long-range effort from Adam Phillip that sailed over the crossbar.
Sunu had a chance to seal the win late on when he beat three men before sliding his shot just wide of the far post.
But Vela’s goal proved to be enough as the Reserves got back on track to maintain their title push.
- Hajrovic 76
- Miquel (C)
- Afobe 67
- Freeman 75
- Vela Goal!
- Meade 76
- Deacon 67
- Murphy 75
- Bruma (C)
- Woods 84
- Djalo 69
- Kane 69
- Saville 84