's Andy Verspeak was a regular at Arsenal Reserves' games last season. He reflects on a memorable, if unusual, fixture which took place at the Club's training ground on March 19...

Due to a fixture re-arrangement the Reserves faced Portsmouth on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a behind-closed-doors match, a far cry from their usual home at Underhill.

While Portsmouth were struggling at the wrong end of the table Neil Banfield's side had enjoyed a 3-2 win over Chelsea the week before and were looking strong contenders to challenge league leaders Charlton.

More importantly though, Gilberto had just made his return to action. He came through 90 minutes against Chelsea and was set to start against Portsmouth. 

The pristine surface was always going to favour Arsenal but there was a somewhat surreal atmosphere, given that the only spectators were family members standing on the side of the pitch.

Gilberto was not the only player making a comeback. Patrick Cregg, Olafur-Ingi Skulason, Johan Djourou and Frankie Simek all returned from injury and Danny Karbassiyoon returned after a loan spell with Ipswich.

Portsmouth took an undeserved lead after 13 minutes but Arsenal responded in style. Gilberto, pulling the strings in midfield, was in a different class. 

Sebastian Larsson and Arturo Lupoli combined to send through Anthony Stokes and Lupoli went close himself before Stokes had a header cleared from the line.

A goal was coming and it finally arrived from the penalty spot. A defence-splitting pass from Larsson sent Stokes through and the keeper brought him down. Stokes got up to convert from 12 yards.

Then Arsenal turned on the style, scoring twice more and hitting the woodwork before the interval. Lupoli put them ahead, cutting through the Portsmouth defence before slotting the ball past the keeper. 

He then turned provider, playing Karbassyioon in down the left wing. He promptly beat everyone for pace before cutting inside and drilling a shot into the far corner.

There could have been more before half-time. Stokes showed sublime skill to flick the ball up over his head, spin past his marker and send a thunderous volley crashing against the bar.

Arsenal did make it 4-1 in the second half, Lupoli scoring from the spot after a deliberate handball saw the South Coast side reduced to 10 men.

After that it was a game of keep-ball for the Gunners, but in truth they could have handed out a thrashing to an outclassed Pompey. The only disappointment was that no spectators were allowed in to witness such a spectacle.



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13 Jun 2005