By Declan Taylor
Neil Banfield watched his side secure their first points of the campaign with a smash-and-grab victory at Portsmouth on Tuesday night.
If the game against Chelsea highlighted Arsenal’s attacking flair, this game was a real showcase of the side’s defensive class as the visitors’ back four dealt superbly with a Portsmouth frontline with bags of Premier League experience.
Jay Simpson scored the only goal of the game from the spot after 76 minutes, and despite being under pressure for large periods, Arsenal emerged victorious on the South Coast.
Banfield made three changes to the side that lost to Chelsea and two of them came in midfield. James Dunne and Henri Lansbury replaced Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere, the latter having travelled to Kiev with the first team for Wednesday night’s Champions League opener.
The manager stuck with the back four that kept Didier Drogba at bay in Barnet but shuffled his pack between the sticks; Vito Mannone was given the nod ahead of Wojciech Szczesny who took his place among the substitutes. One notable inclusion alongside the Pole on the bench was first year scholar Conor Henderson for his first reserve involvement.
There wasn’t much to choose between the sides in the opening stages. Fierce drives from both Lansbury and Kieran Gibbs were unable to trouble Jamie Ashdown in the home goal while at the other end Nugent shot straight at Mannone after the one-time England goalscorer beat the offside trap.
The battle was being fought largely in the midfield with neat passing on show from both sides but clear-cut chances were proving hard to come by. A couple of Jay Simpson snap-shots were all that Arsenal had to show for some vintage flowing football.
Gavin Hoyte, starting his second game as the new Reserve team skipper, dealt with the threat of Kanu admirably as the Nigerian showed glimpses of his class. Twice he almost released Nugent from the edge of the area but Hoyte and his back four were always suitably alert.
Portsmouth were looking the most likely to break the deadlock in the half’s closing stages. The lively Arnold Mvuemba released Matt Ritchie down the left flank and he jinked inside the area. Fortunately for Mannone, Ritchie’s rasping drive flashed wide of the right-hand post. A flurry of Portsmouth corners ended the half but Arsenal were never really threatened.
A more urgent Arsenal emerged from the dressing room but the hosts were starting to make their experience tell. Despite this, Arsenal were exploiting the counter-attack to good effect. Three minutes before the hour, Mark Randall danced through the Portsmouth backline but Ashdown stopped smartly and
Arsenal again came close with a free-kick after 64 minutes. Fran Merida stepped up 25 yards from goal but crashed his effort onto the bar.
Kyle Bartley dealt expertly with a low Nugent cross before Paul Rodgers elegantly dispossessed Tom Kilbey 15 yards. moments later, the visitors took the lead.
Ultimately it was an Arsenal counter-attack that made the difference. Simpson, released by Merida, burst into the box and was swiped down after trying to round the keeper. The striker brushed himself off and nonchalantly rolled Arsenal ahead, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Portsmouth huffed and puffed more vigorously but couldn’t conjure any more meaningful chances. The Arsenal back four were fully in control and Mannone provided the hardest of rocks behind them.
Fonte could have added some gloss late on but he fired his free-kick high and wide from 25 yards. The last time Portsmouth beat Arsenal was in February 2006 - the wait goes on.
- Gibbs 76
- Lansbury 74
- Dunne 56
- Simpson Goal!
- Henderson 76
- Rodgers 56
- Steer 74
- Pack 67
- Ritchie 78
- Kilbey 67
- Nlundulu 78