By Richard Clarke
Arsenal Reserves lost 5-3 to West Ham on Monday in their final Premier League (South) fixture of the season.
Eddie Niedzwiecki?s side went into the game having gone unbeaten in their last nine matches. They had also kept five consecutive clean sheets.
However that impressive record was swept aside by an experienced Hammers outfit. They roared into a three-goal lead before David Bentley reduced the arrears with a fine solo goal just before the break.
When West Ham struck twice in quick succession after the restart one feared the young Gunners may be on the wrong end of a big score. But they rallied.
The persistence of Michal Papadopulos got Arsenal back into the game and the excellent Bentley scored the third with a wickedly dipping free-kick. They had a couple of chances to grab the fourth and set up a grandstand finish but time ran out.
A healthy crowd of around 1,400 gathered at Barnet FC to see the second-string complete their season. Early on, there was little sign of the goal feast that was to follow. Indeed, the biggest event in the opening minutes was when Ars?ne Wenger took his seat in the stands. The Arsenal first-team manager, fresh from securing the Premiership trophy, was given a huge ovation.
In the 13th minute, Bentley nearly caught out West Ham keeper David Forde with a clever shot from the left-hand byline. The No 1 had to back-track quickly and just managed to flick the ball over the bar.
Six minutes later Stephen Bradley sent John Spicer free on the right and his low, first-time cross was perfect for the onrushing Dean Shiels. The striker slid in and got good contact six yards out. However Forde was in the right position to block with his body.
Arsenal were playing well but West Ham had the likes of Joel McAnuff, Adam Nowland, Don Hutchison and Robert Lee in their side. Soon first-team experience told. In the 21st minute, McAnuff dribbled into the Arsenal area and his deflected shot sailed over Graham Stack and into the net.
On the half hour, Hutchison fed Sebastien Carole who held off Kerrea Gilbert to steer home a shot. Two minutes later, Stack felled the lively McAnuff and Hutchison scored from the penalty spot. It looked all over.
Bentley gave Arsenal hope eight minutes before the break. He dribbled almost half the length of the pitch as the West Ham defence backed off then, after deciding against a cross to the far post, he fooled his marker before firing home at the near post. An excellent finish.
Nowland restored West Ham?s three-goal advantage five minutes after the break where he fired home a low shot from the edge of the area. Four minutes later Hutchison stabbed home a fifth.
But just before the hour, Papadopulos chased Wayne Quinn?s backpass to his keeper. He managed to rob Forde and tapped the ball into the empty net. Substitute Dean McDonald looked incisive when he came on and in the 63rd minute collected Bentley?s pin-point cross-field pass, cut inside his marker and forced Forde into a fine save low to his left.
Bentley then conjured up a top-class free-kick to give Arsenal a glimmer of hope with 17 minutes. The ball was positioned 25 yards out just to right of the goal but the 19-year-old bent the ball around the wall and it dipped into the far corner of the net.
Only a sprawling save by Forde stopped another substitute, 15-year-old Anthony Stokes, making it 5-4 with two minutes left.
- Click here for a full list of Arsenal's Reserve League results and reports this season.