By Matt Fortune
A wonderfully efficient display from Arsenal Reserves saw them beat high-flying West Ham United 2-0 at Underhill on Monday night, and so stretch their unbeaten run to six games.
Jack Wilshere took up the role of tormentor-in-chief, scoring one and making the other. In the 24th minute he fed Rui Fonte who poked in from just inside the box, before a sublime effort from Wilshere illuminated the dark sky above Barnet.
This was the young Gunners' final home rubber of the season with a trip to Aston Villa next Tuesday bringing their season to an end. That means in the space of eight days, Arsenal will have faced the league's top two sides. Their performances and results would measure just how much they have improved.
Abou Diaby came into the side as he looked to boost his fitness levels after a three-match domestic suspension. Johan Djourou had been named in the original XI but was withdrawn with a back complaint before kick-off. Banfield later revealed that it had only been a precaution. After their match-winning impacts from the bench against Derby last week, Wilshere and Jay Thomas were handed starting berths. Overall there are six changes from the win over the Rams. In their last fixture, the Hammers had eased past Tottenham with the help of Dean Ashton, John Pantsil and Bobby Zamora. Their line-up this time though had considerably less experience. Tony Stokes, who had equalised in spectacular fashion when these sides met in November, has a sprinking of squad appearances in the first-team, as has centre-back Jack Collison.
Manager Neil Banfield had called for his side to impress in the final two games with prospective managers on site eyeing up potential loan deals for next season. However, the early exchanges did little to inspire. Arsenal had to scrap to earn the right to play their game; they did just that.
Nacer Barazite fired wide from distance in the fifth minute in what was one of just three efforts on goal in the opening quarter. Fonte had the other but was denied brilliantly by the on-rushing Marek Stech. A bungled counter-attack from the Gunners prevented them taking the lead shortly after, but it was the prelude to a sustained spell of pressure.
The left-footed Wilshere was being deployed on the right and looked right at home. For the umpteenth time the 16-year-old cut in past a flimsy challenge before threading a glorious reverse pass into Fonte. The Portuguese striker duly poked home his second of the season.
Arsenal remained on top but failed to find the cushion of a second. Cue Wilshere for one of the season's finest goals.
Having been fed by Barazite, Wilshere was faced with a bank of white shirts. Undeterred, he reshuffled his feet and bent an audacious effort high and around the goalkeeper. Via the angle, the ball nestled in the back of the net.
Thomas and Barazite both forced Stech into sprawling saves with speculative efforts from distance as the hosts continued to press before the break.
Diaby had departed the field gingerly complaining of a knock to the hip shortly before the interval. That gave Gilles Sunu the chance to add to last week's thunderous effort. Shortly after the restart, and after more tidy build-up, he nearly did. However his shot from just outside the box was wayward.
Despite the deficit, West Ham were not giving up the ghost. Junior Stanislas enjoyed his most fruitful spell on the right. The 18-year-old was twice profligate when well placed, be it crossing or shooting goalwards. Stokes then had similar misfortune in front of goal. Manonne was having one of his quieter evenings.
In fact, the Italian's best stop was forced upon him by his own mistake. The 19-year-old spilt a straightforward catch into a crowded area but atoned for the error by shovelling the ensuing shot onto the post before it arrived back in his grasp.
Fonte then flashed a header wide, but the tempo was dropping. Substitute Rene Steer and Sunu combined well on the left in a bid to raise it but the former skewed well wide from a tight angle.
It reignited the hosts. Traore went close and Wilshere eeked out a cross after some mesmerising skill in the right channel. It was his last contribution before he made way for Rhys Murphy. Upon his departure, Wilshere was given the loudest and most uplifting ovation afforded to any player this season. It was fully warranted.
Arsenal played out the remainder of the game with the handbrake on. They had earned that right. The job had been done in the first-half.
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