By Matt Fortune
Arsenal Reserves strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory against Portsmouth Reserves at Underhill on Monday night.
Goals in either half from Dutch midfielder Nacer Barazite and 16-year old Sanchez Watt were enough for Neil Banfield's men as they continued their fine start to the season.
Captained again by summer acquisition Harvard Nordtveit, the young Gunners made four changes from the team that had beaten Fulham just five days ago. Stripped of the first-team experience of Nicklas Bendtner and Armand Traore, they also were without Mark Randall.
The game started at a high tempo with both teams looking lively, but it was the home side that was by far the most convincing. Slick passing and bright movement created space in midfield but, against a Pompey defence housing two players with Premier League experience, Arsenal were restricted to long-range shots.
The first real sight of goal for Arsenal came from an unlikely source. Rene Steer, making his first appearance of the season at left back, latched onto a loose ball in midfield and began a dazzling run into the Portsmouth box before cutting inside and forcing a smart stop from Jamie Ashdown.
The visitors soon had a sniff of their own when Louis Castles danced his way through a crowd of players, but the impressive Nordtveit was across quickly to steer the ball to safety. It would prove to be Portsmouth's only foray into the Arsenal box in the opening period.
Banfield's men continued to look comfortable in possession and played with a confidence matched by their undoubted ability. They had outlets from all angles and in Abu Ogogo and Rene Steer they have full backs seemingly cut from the same cloth as first-team stars Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Eboue.
On 38 minutes Arsenal finally got the breakthrough their relentless pressure so richly deserved. Rui Fonte dropped deep and as Ogogo created the overlap the young Spaniard played a deft ball perfectly into the advancing right back's path. The youngster had time to look up and pick his pass leaving Barazite with the simplest of tasks from six yards out.
The home side continued to press and nearly doubled their lead right on half time when the increasingly influential Jay Emmanuel-Thomas saw his long range effort canon back off the post. Luckily for Pompey, the ball fell to a crowd of blue shirts to avert the danger.
The second half began much as the first had, with Arsenal dominating possession. But again they were restricted to shots from distance thanks largely to the organisation of Portsmouth's Linvoy Primus.
On 52 minutes Banfield gave Frenchman Gilles Sunu his first taste of English football. The highly-regarded forward, signed from Chateauroux this summer, has received plaudits from several members of the youth-team staff and on this performance is definitely an exciting prospect.
Impressive though Arsenal were they still failed to find the crucial second goal and the visitors started to believe that they could rescue something from the game. Arsenal did have the ball in the back of the net just after the hour mark but Paul Rodgers was adjudged offside having been played through by Emmanuel-Thomas.
Rodgers and Nordtveit were in formiddable form at the back controlling a watertight defence that kept their goalkeeper free from harm as they had done in for the most part against Fulham last week. However they were given a wake-up call when Franck Songo'o unleashed a snap shot from outside the box that sailed just wide.
The scare pushed Arsenal back onto the front foot, and they got their just reward on 76 minutes when Emmanuel-Thomas battled through a couple of challenges, displaying excellent close control before threading a delightful ball through to substitute Watt. Watt had time to pick his spot and did so in majestic fashion, lifting the ball over the advancing Ashdown.
Arsenal had the breathing space they craved and there was no way back for Portsmouth.
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