By Matt Fortune
Four second-half goals saw Arsenal stretch their unbeaten run to five with a careful and efficient dismantling of Derby at Underhill on Monday night.
Nacer Barazite got the ball rolling, slipping a confident low shot across the goalkeeper before the break and Gilles Sunu walloped home his first for the second-string just after an hour. Substitutes Jay Thomas and Rhys Murphy then got in on the act, with the latter bagging a brace to add gloss to a commanding Gunners performance.
There were two changes from last week's North London derby as Brazilian midfielder Denilson made his first start in an Arsenal shirt since the Carling Cup Semi-Final at Tottenham in January. He lasted 55 minutes. Meanwhile, Justin Hoyte filled in at right-back in place of his brother Gavin.
Derby are rock bottom of the Reserve League South without a win all season but Neil Banfield had stressed that the Rams should not be taken lightly. Like the Gunners, they focus heavily on blooding their young stars a level up from the Academy. For once Arsenal could boast the most experienced line-up.
In truth, the gulf in quality was evident right from the off.
The hosts served early warning of their threat from wide. Traore and Rodgers both applied careful crosses from the left but the pace of the pair had meant support was often too far behind. Hoyte then fizzed a tempting low cross across the six-yard box that, were it not for the goalkeeper's intervention, would have left a tap-in
Intricate and patient build-up was proving fruitless. Nordtveit decided that a darting run of Traore was worthy of a long punt forward. He found his team-mate with pin-point accuracy, but Traore's first touch far outshone his second. From a narrow angle he sent in a vicious cross when precision may have been better. Derby escaped.
Ryan Connolly shot wide from distance almost apologetically as Derby finally ventured forward. Anthony Robertson then provided a moment of class as his splendid free-kick drew the best from Lukasz Fabianski. It was, strangely in a match dominated so far by the hosts, the first meaningful attempt on target and had taken nearly half an hour.
Arsenal responded well and James Dunne nearly provided a thumping conclusion to a decent passage of play. Barazite was then a hair's breadth from nipping onto a Denilson pass. The Dutchman didn't have to wait long for another sniff of goal.
Five minutes before the break and with the tempo almost pedestrian, Barazite turned on a sixpence and burst into space superbly created by Sunu's run. Derby's defence had parted like the waves in front of Moses and, with only the keeper to beat, Barazite finished with aplomb.
It was more of the same after the interval as Arsenal emerged with the bit between their teeth. Traore's trickery twice drew a foul in the vicinity of the box but neither he nor Denilson could hit the target from the resulting free-kicks.
Sunu leapt majestically and flicked a header towards the back stick. Had it not been for a man on the line, the lead would have doubled. The French forward then turned provider but compatriot Traore fluffed his shot from a relatively straight-forward position.
The tide was with Arsenal and they should really have put the game beyond doubt in the minutes that followed. First they had a worthwhile shout for handball in the area turned down, then Sunu was bundled over in the six-yard box. It looked to all those inside Underhill to be a penalty, except the man that counted. The referee waved away the protests to the disbelief of Banfield.
Thomas, recently on for Denilson, danced through a couple of challenges but blasted over, before Robertson did the same for the visitors. The game was at its most open and you sensed that Arsenal needed to put it to bed. They soon did.
Playing in a more advanced role than his familiar left-back spot, Traore was a persistent menace combining pace, power and above all an end product. All three were evident as he thrust himself toward the by-line and cut the ball back for Sunu near the penalty spot. With a drop of the shoulder the striker walloped the ball beyond Hinchcliffe. Considering Derby had only threatened sporadically, it was fair to say the match was over.
But as so often in football, things can change in a flash. Abu Ogogo was adjudged to have handled inside the box in one of those, 'I've seen them given moments'. This was one was and Robertson coolly slipped the ball home from the spot.
No sooner had the deficit halved, than it returned to two. Jack Wilshere was afforded too much space on the edge of the box and floated a delicious cross right on to the head of Rhys Murphy. Game over, again.
Thomas added a fourth before the end, slipping the ball under the advancing Hinchcliffe. It was 'ole' time and the fifth came courtesy of Murphy after tremendous link-up play between himself and Djourou. There was even time for James Dunne to thump a meaty shot against the crossbar.
Arsenal's second-string have scored more than two for the first-time this season and it was some performance to bring a fine end to what has been a difficult week for the Club.
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