Ashley Cole completed another 90 minutes as Arsenal Reserves
ended their season in style at West Ham on Thursday.
The left back was watched by England assistant coach Tord Grip
as he played his second full game after long-term injury.
Nicklas Bendtner was again the star of the show for Neil
Banfield's men as his brace, either side of a stunning
long-range strike by Sebastian Larsson, secured all three points
for the Gunners.
Bendtner may even have had a hat-trick but Stephen Bywater saved
his 85th minute spot-kick.
Banfield made four changes from the side that beat Coventry 4-0
last week. Johan Djourou replaced Matthew Connolly at the heart of
Arsenal's defence and the Barnet-born defender dropped to the
bench. In addition, Abou Diaby, Alexandre Song and Theo
Walcott all started as Gael Clichy, Giorgos Efrem and Anthony
Stokes made way.
Arsenal produced their first effort on goal as early as the
second minute when Walcott let fly from the edge of the penalty
area but the former Southampton star scuffed his attempt and
Bywater saved with ease.
Fifteen minutes later, Walcott was replaced by Stokes due to
injury and his replacement made the most of his team-mate's
misfortune by laying on all three of Arsenal's goals and
winning the penalty.
The first of those goals arrived on the half-hour. Sebastian
Larsson found Diaby who in turn fed Bendtner. The Dane then
exchanged passes with Stokes before finishing coolly past Bywater
in the Hammers' goal.
The long, leggy bursts from midfield Diaby were having
increasing influence as the half wore on so it was no surprise to
see him involved in the opening goal.
The second half saw the Gunners far more dominant, and just 10
minutes after the restart, they doubled their lead. Larsson played
a neat one-two with Stokes at the edge of the area and with the
hosts' slow to close down the space, accepted the invitation to
shoot, finding the far corner with a superb strike.
Bendtner then went close to adding a third before Hogan
Ephriam's free-kick halved West Ham's deficit in the 73rd
minute. But rather than signal a Hammers' onslaught, the goal
simply gave Arsenal the incentive look for another goal of their
own and they thought they would get it with five minutes
Stokes was clipped inside the area as he looked to shoot having
turned smartly away from his marker. The referee pointed to the
spot and Bendtner stepped up only to see Bywtaer pull off a fine
stop, low-down to his left.
But Bendtner was not to be denied. He had come of the bench on
the opening day of the season at Underhill to grab a last-minute
winner against the Hammers and he had the final say in this
encounter as well.
He exchanged passes with Stokes, dummied the keeper' and
took his time before blasting it into the roof of the net from
close range. That took the former Copenhagen striker's tally to
18 from just 22 starts this term - just enough to edge him front of
Arturo Lupoli as the Reserves' top-scorer.
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