By Joe Brewin at Underhill
Sanchez Watt’s second-half strike ensured Arsenal Reserves continued their unbeaten start to the season at Underhill with a slim victory against Blackburn.
Watt bagged his fourth goal of the campaign with just under 15 minutes left to seal all three points for Neil Banfield’s young side in a closely-fought contest against Rovers.
The game looked destined for a goalless draw as the second period wore on but a resilient Arsenal side ultimately took the initiative to claim victory.
A young Gunners’ team sheet included the exciting Ryo once more on the left side of midfield following his debut for Arsène Wenger’s first team in the Carling Cup against Shrewsbury.
Nico Yennaris began in a more unfamiliar central midfield role, while Luke Freeman returned to starting action from the draw with Bolton.
There were also squad spots for several of the Club’s rising stars in Steve Bould’s Under-18 set-up including Jeffrey Monakana, Samir Bihmoutine and Zak Ansah.
Blackburn boasted highly-rated Montenegro international Simon Vukcevic in their starting XI, fresh from his summer move from Portuguese outfit Sporting. First-team hopefuls Grant Hanley and Bruno Ribeiro slotted in at the back.
The opening exchanges at Underhill ultimately proved tight as both sides looked for a foothold in the game. Arsenal began to dictate possession in the first 10 minutes but chances were few and far between.
Oguzhan Ozyakup showed flashes of the creative flair that persuaded Wenger to hand him his debut in the Carling Cup last week and crashed over early on.
In truth this was a first half that offered little. The match quickly turned into a tactical battle as Banfield’s side looked to control possession while a stern Blackburn outfit proved a tough obstacle to move.
There were opportunities, of course. Luke Freeman was an early target for balls through the middle and it seemed only a matter of time before he received his chance at goal. Indeed, in the 17th minute the young forward picked up on Yennaris’ ball through but fired narrowly wide.
The young Gunners enjoyed waves of possession at times and came closest to finding the game’s opener just before the half-hour mark. Freeman’s blistering run found Ryo and, with the ball bobbling, Watt accepted responsibility but saw his effort deflect off the outside of the post for a corner.
Blackburn were stout opposition, however, and almost took the lead themselves. Grant Hanley’s towering header looped over Damiam Martinez in the Gunners’ goal but an Arsenal man was on hand to head off the line.
The cat-and-mouse contest persisted but ultimately the half finished goalless.
Chuks Aneke started the second half in a slightly deeper role and almost paved way for Watt to find the first goal. His ball through was neat, but the latter could not keep it under control before it reached Matthew Urwin.
Banfield introduced Under-18s hopeful Jeffrey Monakana on the hour mark as he looked for a way to open up the Rovers defence, with Ryo making way.
Nick Blackman could have put the visitors ahead when he latched onto James Knowles’ flick-on inside the box but his ambitious overhead kick was not met with any dangerous contact.
Just as the second half threatened to turn into a repeat of the first, the Gunners turned the game on its head. Ozyakup found Watt inside the box after some excellent skill and the latter fired home expertly into the bottom corner.
Blackburn responded positively to going behind and pushed hard to find an equaliser. Captain Hanley was a regular threat, first going close at the back post before driving a venomous effort narrowly wide of a post.
A battling Arsenal side hung on for victory, however, providing another timely reminder to the boss of their resilient nature. This is not a side that is prepared to accept defeat.
The win sees the young Gunners increase their lead at the top of the Reserve League South, edging ahead of Chelsea. Next up for Banfield’s team is a home clash against Swansea on Monday, October 3.
- Aneke 82
- Miyaichi 60
- Watt Goal!
- Monakana 60
- Ebecilio 82
- Hanley Yellow Card
- Cotton 64
- Blackman 86
- Goulon 71
- O'Sullivan 71
- Lingzani 64
- Maclaren 86