By Nick Teale
Sebastien Squillaci made his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt as the Reserves came from behind to beat Blackburn Rovers 4-3 on Tuesday evening.
The Gunners came from two goals down to level before David Dunn restored the visitors' lead with 18 minutes remaining. But Benik Afobe levelled for Neil Banfield's side before Jay Emmanuel-Thomas struck a late winner in an exciting climax at Underhill.
Benjani had slotted past Lukasz Fabianski to put the visitors ahead after a mistake by Johan Djourou and Dunn blasted a second into the top corner three minutes before half time.
Almost instantly Chuks Aneke crafted the Gunners' first with a clever flick over a Rovers defender and just before the hour Afobe tapped in to draw Neil Banfield's side level.
The big team news for those arriving at Underhill was the inclusion of four first-team stars, including new signing Squillaci. Djourou was his centre-back partner, Fabianski started in goal and Denilson returned from an abdominal injury in midfield.
Blackburn included the likes of Steven Nzonzi, Dunn, Jason Roberts and Benjani in their starting XI.
Squillaci had instant involvement, putting in a fine challenge to deny Jason Roberts who had been played through on goal just two minutes into the game.
At the other end keeper Jake Kean had to push Nico Yennaris' low cross away from Aneke and the Blackburn stopper also had to be alert when Afobe latched onto Denilson's 20-yard drive to turn and shoot from close range.
Banfield was forced into an early substitution when right-back Yennaris had to be replaced by Daniel Boateng after just 21 minutes. Junior Hoilett provided an immediate test for the replacement defender but Dunn smashed his shot wide after receiving the ball from the left.
Blackburn took the lead in the 26th minute. Striker Benjani capitalised on a mistake by Djourou to race through one-on-one with Fabianski. The Rovers frontman picked his spot and calmly slotted beyond the Polish keeper.
It seemed like being the last real act of the opening period until Dunn smashed home Blackburn's second three minutes before the break.
The game was being played out mainly in the middle third when Rovers broke forward and from 25 yards Dunn rocketed a powerful strike past Fabianski.
For the visitors it seemed like the perfect way to go into half time. It was, until Aneke provided some magic for the Gunners.
The midfielder was among the goals in a 5-0 win at Bolton two weeks ago. This time he looped the ball over a Blackburn centre back and crashed home from 10 yards out. A brilliant piece of skill from the young Englishman.
Nine minutes after half time Kean made a hat-trick of saves to deny Arsenal an equaliser.
First he palmed Jay Emmanuel-Thomas' free kick away from goal, then he denied Afobe's first effort after Randall's scuffed ball across the six-yard box. The striker pounced on the follow-up but again Kean was in the way, and this time he held on.
But Banfield's side got their equaliser just before the hour mark. Emmanuel-Thomas came down the right and delivered a low cross from the byline to Afobe, who tapped in from a couple of yards out.
Blackburn looked for an immediate response but Boateng produced a well-timed tackle to disposes Hoilett.
Both sides continued in search of the winner and with 18 minutes remaining Blackburn restored their advantage.
Dunn threaded the ball through to Hoilett on the left flank and he picked out Roberts in the area. The striker turned and as he did was pulled back by Djourou. The referee pointed to the spot to the disappointment of the Swiss centre back.
Dunn stepped up and though Fabianski went the right way, the Blackburn midfielder had his second goal of the evening.
But it wasn't a winner.
Nine minutes from time Aneke collected the ball 20 yards out and lofted the ball into the area for the onrushing Afobe. The striker collected the ball and slotted home to draw Arsenal level for a second time in the match.
They should have taken the lead moments later. Aneke got to the byline on the right and cut back for Ignasi Miquel but the captain, perhaps caught by surprise as the ball flashed into his feet, struck wide with the goal gaping. He was just two yards out
However, the winner did come.
Emmanuel-Thomas found space in the area and squeezed the ball between keeper Kean and the near post. With 87 minutes on the clock, the goal turned out to be Arsenal's winner.
It was the end of an entertaining second half of football. Two games in and Arsenal Reserves have already notched up nine goals and six points this season. It seems another title charge is underway.
- Miquel (C)
- Yennaris 22
- Randall 62
- Aneke Goal!
- Afobe 82 Goal! Goal!
- Emmanuel-Thomas Goal!
- Boateng 22
- Deacon 62
- Murphy 82
- Parry 85
- Dunn (C) Goal! Goal!
- Hoilett 74
- Mwaruwari Goal!
- Aley 85
- Potts 74