By Chris Harris
Fran Merida marked his first appearance on English soil with a goal to remember as a youthful Arsenal XI eased to victory at Boreham Wood.
The young Spaniard fired a swerving effort into the roof of the net to provide a sizable crowd with some decent Friday night entertainment. The last teenage midfielder to arrive at Arsenal from Spain was Cesc Fabregas; don't be surprised to hear Merida's name quite a lot in the years to come.
Merida scored the goal of the game but Arturo Lupoli was the star of the show. The Italian striker showed he is as lethal as ever in front of goal with two trademark finishes which opened and completed the scoring. Lupoli also provided assists for Merida and Nacer Barazite to give the visitors a strangehold which they never relinquished.
This fixture has become a staple of Arsenal's pre-season programme and, once again, it provided entertaining fare for an enthusiastic Meadow Park crowd.
Seven first-teamers were on show here 12 months ago but, with most of the big names in action in Alkmaar, Neil Banfield's side was packed with young professionals and academy prospects.
There were some notable names on the teamsheet though. The prolific Lupoli led the line, Merida started in midfield and Ryan Garry, blighted by injury for the past three years, was a welcome sight at the heart of defence.
Arsenal's youngsters and the older heads of the Ryman League Premier were well matched in the early stages. Boreham Wood were first to show, Chris Watters twisting and turning before sending in a dangerous cross which bounced off Marvin Samuel's knee. Then Merida, showing some nice touches, played Kieran Gibbs into space on the left. The young winger looked up but failed to pick out Lupoli, haring into the box.
Arsenal almost took the lead in bizarre circumstances after five minutes. Another clever Merida pass picked out Lupoli's run through the centre. Noel Imber raced out of his goal, hammered his clearance against the Italian and was relieved to see the ball bounce wide.
Whatever the circumstances though, Lupoli looked the most likely. His jinking runs and interplay with Gibbs and Jay Simpson bothered the Boreham Wood defence but, for a while at least, Arsenal's final ball was lacking.
That all changed after half-an-hour, although the visitors had to overcome a huge scare before breaking the deadlock. Leon Archer picked out Watters in the left channel and his low cross-shot looked like a formality for Darrell Cox. Instead, the onrushing Boreham Wood midfielder stumbled on the ball three yards out and Rene Steer gratefully cleared the danger.
Cox's head was probably still in his hands when Lupoli raced onto a through ball just seconds later and finished with the coolness we have come to expect.
The Italian had the bit between his teeth and so nearly doubled his tally 10 minutes later. Mark Smith lost concentration and possession just outside his area and Lupoli seized on the chance, only for Imber to stick out a leg and divert his shot wide. Imber was in action again before half time, leaping to tip Nacer Barazite's fierce effort over the crossbar.
Boreham Wood started the second half brightly and almost levelled two minutes after the restart. Chris Bangura's cute flick sent Andre Delisser racing away down the left. He unselfishly cut the ball back to fellow substitute Michael Black, but his low drive was palmed aside by Vito Mannone.
Two minutes later, the home side's prospects took a turn for the worse. Lupoli found Merida in space 25 yards out and the young Spaniard fizzed a swerving shot into the roof of the net past a bemused Imber.
Lupoli turned provider again after 55 minutes. The Italian raced onto a through ball and jinked past Imber. The angle was too narrow to attempt a shot so Lupoli laid the ball back to Barazite. He found the bottom corner with a minimum of fuss.
That ended the game as a contest but it remained eminently watchable. Bangura attempted a cheeky chip which Mannone managed to grab, and substitute Marc Elston converted Lupoli's perfect pass only to see the linesman's flag cut short his celebrations.
Then Lupoli, the outstanding player on show, rounded off a positive night for Arsenal's youngsters with a thumping left-footed finish in the final minute. It was no more than the impressive Italian deserved.
Matthew Connelly holds off his man
Fran Merida bursts forwards
- To buy official Arsenal pictures visit www.ArsenalPics.com.