By Giuseppe Muro
When Liverpool midfielder Thomas Ince scored a fortunate 89th-minute equaliser at Underhill last week, Arsenal’s bid for the Reserve League title seemed to be over.
That was until Luke Freeman’s injury-time header gave Neil Banfield’s second string a crucial three points to re-assert themselves at the top of the table following a difficult run of five games without a win.
With nearest rivals West Ham losing at Blackburn on Monday, Tuesday’s trip to Wigan presents Arsenal with an opportunity to extend that four-point lead yet further in their penultimate away game of the season.
And Banfield admits the circumstances of last week’s win has given his players an added confidence to finish the campaign in style.
“They have had it tough in the last few weeks and to beat Liverpool will give them the confidence that they can win these big games and play well,” the manager told Arsenal.com. “It was a real confidence-booster for them.
“We always had belief and straight away the players were looking forward to the next game. The character has never been in doubt and the spirit has never been in doubt. They have always had the ability, I just think a few of them took a bit of time to find their feet.
“We go up to Wigan looking to continue the standard we have set ourselves. We will try and get as many points as we can, try to win every game and see what happens. If we do end up winning our group we will take it on from there.
“But the win for us this season is the development of Jack Wilshere along with the continued development of Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny. Obviously we want to win the league but the success for us is the number of players coming through to the first-team squad.”
While Banfield may not see league success as the No 1 priority, he admits his players are keeping tabs on the standings.
“The lads have got an eye on it. You sense that they would like to win it, obviously it’s nice to win any competition.”
Last week’s matchwinner Freeman has since been rewarded with a contract extension that caps a fine few months for the forward who has been on a hot streak of late.
The former Gillingham man, who celebrated his 19th birthday a week ago, has found the net five times in his last seven outings; including a spectacular equaliser in the dying seconds at Chelsea, a late leveller against Wolves and last week’s double. His manager says the deal is no more than he deserves.
“He has made big strides this year, I think he’s growing up and the understanding in his game is really developing” said Banfield. “Luke has showed a lot of character and he is an extremely hard worker in everything he does.
“He went away to Yeovil which was different for him and he has come back, got his head down and worked extremely hard. I’ve been playing him in a different position and he is now really relishing it.”
Elsewhere, former Arsenal striker and free agent Jérémie Aliadière, who is currently training with Arsène Wenger’s squad while he looks for a club, is set to feature in the North-West.
Arsenal.com will bring you live text commentary from the game and Arsenal TV Online subscribers can view match highlights 'on demand' from Wednesday afternoon.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source