By Chris Harris

Jeremie Aliadiere marked his return to action with a slick finish as Arsenal's reserves drew 1-1 with Nottingham Forest on Monday night.

The French striker was sidelined for six weeks after damaging medial ligaments against Middlesbrough last month.

The injury halted Aliadiere in his tracks after a productive run in the first team, but he was straight back in the groove for Eddie Niedzwiecki's side.

After a first half which did nothing to warm the cockles of a shivering crowd, the game came to life after the break.

Arsenal had the upper hand but fell behind just before the hour mark. Forest broke swiftly on the right, Matt Bodkin curled in a wonderful cross and Davy Oyen nodded past Rami Shaaban.

It was harsh on the Gunners but they responded with character and no little skill to restore parity five minutes later.

Michal Papadopulos slipped a perfectly-weighted pass through to Aliadiere and the 20-year-old jinked past Pascal Formann before rolling the ball home.

The move summed up Arsenal's vast improvement in the second half. Before the interval they struggled to turn the Forest defence and lacked penetration.

John Spicer struck the post with a first-time shot after seven minutes but other promising positions were squandered by poorly chosen final balls.

Forest had their moments before the break, notably when Michael Stewart's fizzing drive was plucked out of the air by a diving Shaaban.

The Arsenal goalkeeper was making his first appearance since returning from his loan spell at West Ham but, that spectacular stop aside, had little to do.

Neither did Formann in the first half but, after some well-chosen words from Niedzwiecki, Arsenal were a different prospect after the break.

The pace and trickery of Aliadiere was a constant thorn in Forest's side and he almost broke the deadlock after 47 minutes.

Papadopulos, who had never played alongside the Frenchman but was regularly on the same wavelength, poked the ball through but Formann rushed out to smother as Aliadiere tried to lift the ball over him.

The French striker did all the hard work himself seven minutes later, collecting the ball in the right channel and lashing a shot against the angle of post and bar. He was getting closer.

An Arsenal goal looked on the cards but the home side had to suffer the inconvenience of conceding one before Aliadiere finally beat Formann.

The equaliser galvanised the Gunners and they should have gone on to win the game. Jordan Fowler was denied by a magnificent point-blank save after Sebastian Larsson had picked him out.

Papodopulos chested down a pinpoint cross from the tireless Spicer but shot wide and scooped a left-foot effort over the bar after Fowler's miscued shot found him in the box.

Aliadiere, who completed an encouraging 90 minutes on his comeback, also went close but a last-ditch challenge thwarted him after another astute pass from Papadopulos.

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Chris Harris 23 Feb 2004