By Rob Kelly at London Colney
Arsenal Reserves made a disappointing start to the New Year with a 2-0 defeat to a lively Sunderland side at London Colney.
The visitors were in impressive form during the first half and set up victory with goals from Ryan Noble and Billy Knott within the space of five minutes.
Neil Banfield’s side improved markedly after the break but despite spending much of the second period in the Sunderland half, they could not make the breakthrough.
The defeat was the Gunners’ third in succession, but their solid second-half showing gives genuine cause for optimism in 2012.
Martin Angha, Jernade Meade and Zak Ansah dropped to the bench while there was no place for either Elton Monteiro or Oguzhan Ozyakup in the matchday squad.
Sunderland, meanwhile, fielded experienced Scotland international Craig Gordon in goal, while the Black Cats’ bench included former Gunner Roarie Deacon, who left the Club last summer.
On a bitingly-cold afternoon at London Colney, it was the visitors who made the brighter start as Arsenal struggled to impose themselves in the first half.
With just a minute on the clock, Sunderland forward Noble hit the side-netting from close range after a good run by Craig Lynch, and it proved to be a sign of things to come.
Soon afterwards, Oumare Tounkara ran on to a long ball and brushed aside the challenge of Sead Hajrovic. The burly forward, who caused problems for the Gunners’ defence throughout the first half, then tried to round the onrushing Damian Martinez but the goalkeeper did well to grab the ball.
Banfield’s side were struggling to find a way through the organised Black Cats rearguard despite a decent spell of pressure and, with 18 minutes on the clock, they fell behind.
Lewis Laing’s free kick from just inside the Sunderland half was headed down superbly by Tounkara in the box for Noble to run on to, and the forward kept his composure to slot under Martinez.
Park then headed over a Miquel cross before the visitors doubled their lead with a classy strike as Knott burst into the box and lobbed Martinez.
Oxlade-Chamberlain soon moved into the middle of the park as Banfield tried to turn the tide and the former Southampton youngster became an increasingly influential presence.
With 41 minutes gone he nearly set free Park in the box, only for Gordon to snatch the ball from his feet as he prepared to pull the trigger. Moments later, Murphy released the Korean with an incisive pass, but Park blasted over from 12 yards.
The second half was a much more even affair as Banfield sent on Angha and Meade at the break for Hajrovic and Murphy.
Within two minutes of the restart Craig Eastmond blasted a volley wide from the edge of the area, before Oxlade-Chamberlain crashed a 30-yard free kick just over the bar.
Arsenal were much-improved and spent large swathes of the second period in the Sunderland half without ever being able to fashion the clear-cut chance that could have got them back into the match.
- Hajrovic 46
- Miquel (C)
- Boateng 70
- Murphy 46
- Angha 46
- Meade 46
- Ansah 70
- Adam Reed
- Lewis Laing
- Michael Turner 70
- Jon Egan (C)
- Tounkara 70
- Craig Lynch
- Billy Knott Goal!
- Noble 77 Goal!
- Liam Marrs 70
- Roarie Deacon 77
- Ben Wilson
- Liam Noble 70
- Brett Elliott