By Giuseppe Muro at Underhill
Arsenal Reserves kicked off the new season with a hugely satisfying 2-1 victory over fierce rivals Manchester United at Underhill on Monday night.
A deflected effort from the impressive Chuks Aneke proved to be decisive 15 minutes from time as the second string made a winning start to their 2011/12 Premier Reserve League campaign.
A neat finish from Sanchez Watt had earlier given the hosts a much-deserved lead only for Mame Diouf to fire an equaliser against the run of the play late in the first half.
But Arsenal controlled long spells of the game and got the three points their performance had deserved against a United side that included a wealth of Premier League experience in the shape of Darren Fletcher, Darron Gibson and Tomas Kuszczak.
The Gunners were pipped to the Reserve League South by a point last season and, on this evidence, Neil Banfield’s side are set for another strong title challenge this time out.
But, while results are important where youngsters are concerned, for the majority of players on show tonight this season will be more about making their mark and impressing out on loan as they take the next natural step in their development.
Some of the football they played tonight will have prospective suitors purring at the quality Arsenal possess in their youth ranks.
Three players who have already experienced life on loan - Watt, Luke Freeman and Benik Afobe - have yet make another move this season and impressed from the off. Aneke, who will be looking for his first taste of League football this season, completed a four-pronged attack of real menace.
An attack, remember, that scored an impressive 42 goals last term and, although talisman for so many years Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has moved on to pastures new, it took less than four minutes for Arsenal’s first sight at goal of the new campaign.
Kyle Ebecilio, a stalwart for Holland during the recent Under-17s World Cup, raced onto Watt’s flick before driving into the area and forcing Kuszczak into a smart save.
Arsenal started on the front foot and went even closer to going ahead when Afobe weaved his way past three defenders before firing over from a tight angle.
United were struggling to deal with the speed, movement and incision of the Gunners’ attacking play. Aneke, acting as a 'quarterback' picking the ball up from deep, was dictating things.
Banfield was forced into an early reshuffle when Armand Traore and then Afobe limped off but that did little to stem the Arsenal tide.
On the hour-hour, the pressure finally told when Watt gave the hosts a deserved lead. The former Leeds loanee sprang the offside trap, latched onto Freeman’s clever through-ball before lofting over Kuszczak and the right side of the crossbar.
Arsenal were good value for their advantage but no sooner had they gone in front, United were level.
Vito Mannone enjoyed an excellent pre-season with Arsène Wenger’s first-team squad but he was given no chance when Diouf fired low into the far corner from an angle.
The Italian had to call upon his exemplary reflexes minutes later to produce a fine double save and keep the scores level as United threatened to turn the game on its head before the break
It had been 15 weeks since Thomas Vermaelen returned from injury as these two sides shared the spoils at Old Trafford on the final day of last season and this encounter was proving to be just as tight.
Chances were few and far between in a tepid second half until Watt, who cut a frustrated figure after the interval, robbed Reece Brown of possession and forced Kuszczak to save with his legs.
Arsenal haven’t been beaten at Underhill since March 2010 and they looked the side most likely to nick it.
And that’s exactly what they did when Aneke bundled his way into the area, sidestepped past two defenders and found the net via a wicked deflection off a defender.
Banfield leapt for joy on the touchline - it was no more than he, or his side, deserved.
The manager will be the first to tell you the importance of results at this level and this win gets his side off to the best possible start in what promises to be another exciting season for Arsenal’s youngsters.
- Traore 9
- Ebecilio 83
- Afobe 22
- Watt Goal!
- Aneke Goal!
- Meade 9
- Ansah 83
- Angha 22
Man Utd Res
- Diouf 57 Goal!
- Keane 57