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By Declan Taylor
A youthful Arsenal XI turned a half-time deficit into a scintillating 7-1 full-time victory against Maidenhead United on Tuesday night.
The Gunners started brightly but their Blue Square South opponents took the lead just before the break when Kieron St Amee got the telling touch on a well worked free-kick.
But a different Arsenal emerged from the break to set about dismantling their lower-league opponents.
Mark Randall chipped home a superb equaliser five minutes after the break and Sanchez Watt handed the visitors the lead 10 minutes later.
Jay Simpson, Gilles Sunu and Nacer Barazite then all got in on the act before late substitutes Luke Freeman and Chuks Aneke completed the rout.
After a frustrating first half, the second period was a compendium of the sheer quality throughout Arsenal’s youth ranks.
There were two changes to the XI which faced Lincoln eight days ago. Randall, who played 45 minutes in the Gunners’ pre-season opener against Barnet, came into central midfield with Francis Coquelin filling in at right-back. Daniel Boateng missed out.
The other change came at centre-half with Rhema Obed, in for Ignasi Miquel, partnering Luke Ayling in defence. Once again Simpson and Barazite led the line with Sunu and Watt continuing on the flanks.
It was the former who forged the game’s first chance, surging towards goal to feed Simpson on the edge of the area. However, the striker’s fierce effort was brilliantly blocked. Then a minute later Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Randall’s midfield partner, waltzed past three challenges but thrashed his right-foot strike high and wide from a tight angle.
Although the Gunners were making most of the moves on the front foot, Maidenhead threatened on occasions. Midway through the first half the hosts won a flurry of corners but never really tested James Shea.
In the 25th minute Emmanuel-Thomas struck a post from 20 yards before Maidenhead created the game’s first genuine chance.
Lively left-winger Dean Mason picked out the unmarked Alex Wall with a fizzing cross. However, with the whole goal to aim at, the striker flashed his header wide from eight yards out.
Arsenal struck the woodwork again when Simpson crashed a curling 25-yard effort against the angle six minutes before the break. But, just over a minute later, Maidenhead were ahead.
Aryan Tajbakhsh, perhaps the hosts’ best player on the night, whipped a superb free-kick into the danger area and Kieron St Amee chested the ball past Shea from six yards. The half had been equal but it was difficult to begrudge the home side their lead.
Unsurprisingly the goal provided Maidenhead with a massive confidence boost and they started the second period with something of a swagger. But Arsenal would not be denied for much longer.
Five minutes after the break, Coquelin bustled into the centre circle before releasing Randall with a perfectly weighted through-ball. Without breaking stride the 19-year-old lifted an exquisite chip over the stranded Chris Tardif from all of 20 yards. With 11 first team appearances Randall was by far the most experienced Gunner on show and the finish was an emphatic reminder of his pedigree.
St Amee almost replied instantly with a long-range effort but Maidenhead were clearly starting to tire. And just after the hour-mark they were made to pay.
Emmanuel-Thomas was the architect this time, sliding Watt clear with a cute pass. The teenager controlled the ball effortlessly, skipped past the onrushing Tardif and rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
And it got worse for Maidenhead three minutes later when Simpson slammed home Arsenal’s third. The striker muscled into the area, spun away from the defender and fired a vicious strike through Tardif from 10 yards.
Sunu was next to get in on the act but needed two bites at the cherry to do so. The Frenchman, fresh from a terrific finish against Lincoln last time out, saw his initial effort clatter the post. However, after a neat touch on the chest, Sunu planted a low finish across Tardif and into the far corner .
Goal No 5 came within three minutes. This time, Watt seized upon Tardif’s weak clearance and rolled a low cross to the waiting Barazite who made no mistake from two yards.
Arsenal made a treble change in the 78th minute and one of the substitutes made an instant impact. With his first touch from the bench, Freeman controlled a high hanging through-ball and with his second, he rolled a neat finish under the advancing keeper.
Freeman turned provider five minutes from time, setting up fellow substitute Aneke. The towering attacker collected Freeman’s rolling cross and steered an angled strike into the bottom corner for No 7.
It could have been more in the closing stages but Arsenal had to settle for seven. But, after trailing at the interval, the Gunners will be delighted with their second-half haul.
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