While Arsenal were preparing for a glamorous Champions League
tie at the Bernabeu Stadium, Ashley Cole took his first steps
towards a return to first-team action in a
'behind-closed-doors' friendly at the training ground.
Cole played 68 minutes against an experienced Barnet side and
will now wait and see whether he has any adverse reaction to his
thigh injury before setting a date for his senior comeback.
Before today, the England left-back had played just an hour of
football since the start of October. He returned as a substitute
against Middlesbrough on January 14 after a lengthy lay-off with a
stress fracture in his foot, but got injured in the same game.
A little over five weeks later, Cole eased his way through a
useful workout for himself and Arsenal's youngsters.
Barnet's first-teamers, not to mention a swirling wind, made
life rather difficult.
The Bees took the lead a minute into the second half through
Boache, but Arsenal secured victory with three goals in five
minutes. Nicklas Bendtner produced a pair of tidy finishes and
Shane Tracy rounded off a slick move from close range.
Cole's first touch of the match was a clever backheel, but
it was Barnet who made most of the running in the first half. Their
starting line-up including old heads Ian Hendon and Andy
Hessenthaler, plus striker Grazioli.
Hessenthaler carved out the first chance with a precise through
ball to Grazioli. He found Graham but the striker's shot was
far too weak to trouble Mart Poom. The Bees continued to press and
only a perfect sliding tackle from Matthew Connolly denied Bowditch
as he shaped to shoot.
Arsenal's best chance of the half arrived after 27 minutes.
A mix-up in the Barnet defence briefly left goalkeeper Flitney out
of position. Anthony Stokes, after dodging Bendtner, eventually got
a firm shot away but it flew wide.
Grazioli should have done better with a wild hooked effort six
minutes before the break, then Bowditch found the net only to be
denied by a offside flag. At the other end, Stokes hit the
side-netting with a low volley.
While Neil Banfield made three changes at the interval, Barnet
brought on an entirely new team. Within seconds of the restart, the
visitors' replacements broke the deadlock. Boache capitalised
on a defensive mix-up and his shot just crossed the line, despite
Sean Kelly's valiant effort to clear the danger.
Hickie had a great chance to double Barnet's lead when
Boache laid back Soares' cross just before the hour mark. The
midfielder steadied himself but blasted the ball over Poom's
Poor finishing also let down Boache, and Arsenal took full
advantage. Stokes started to stamp his authority on the match after
dropping deeper into midfield and a five-minute flurry saw Arsenal
turn the game on its head.
Bendtner broke through on 61 minutes and unselfishly squared the
ball to Fabrice Muamba. He found the net but had strayed into an
offside position. Seconds later, Bendtner made amends by clipping
the ball into the corner after another well-timed run through the
Barnet back line.
The Danish striker repeated the trick after 63 minutes and, two
minutes later, produced a perfect pass for substitute Marc Elston
in the right channel. Elston crossed low and another sub, Tracy,
tucked home Arsenal's third.
Cole was replaced shortly afterwards and made his way back to
the changing rooms after a valuable, if uneventful, appearance.
Back on the pitch Mark Randall fired narrowly over, Elston
wasted a header inside the Barnet box and Boache had time to miss
two good opportunites before the full-time whistle brought this
useful workout to a close.
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