By Nick Teale
Arsenal Reserves got their title challenge back on track with a 3-1 home win over Birmingham City on Tuesday night.
Ignasi Miquel. Oguzhan Ozyakup and Nacer Barazite were the goalscorers as Neil Banfield's side collected three points from their final home game of the season.
The result keeps Arsenal in the South League title hunt, two points behind leaders Aston Villa, the Gunners' next opponents. The Villans were also in action tonight. They beat West Ham 1-0 at Bishop's Stortford to maintain their unbeaten season.
Rhys Murphy returned to the Reserves' starting XI in place of Sanchez Watt who joined Leeds United on loan last week. Francis Coquelin was on international duty with France so Nico Yennaris was handed his first Reserve-team start at right-back. Ozyakup came into midfield for Emmanuel Frimpong while Vito Mannone replaced Lukasz Fabianski in goal.
For the visitors Maik Taylor wore the gloves while Teemu Tainio, on loan from Sunderland, started in midfield.
Arsenal settled on the ball quickly. Luke Freeman looked lively on the left and Barazite's shot whistled over the bar after he turned his man inside the area.
And with 26 minutes on the clock the Gunners took the lead.
A fine save from Taylor gave Arsenal a corner on the right. Henderson delivered and Miquel headed home at the near post.
But Birmingham were level within two minutes. Tom Cruise conceded a corner and City took it short. A cross was then whipped in from the left and Jacob Rowe rose to meet it, his header dropping into the bottom corner of Mannone's goal.
With 34 minutes on the clock Ozyakup tried a lob over Taylor but his clever shot was held by the Birmingham keeper.
The game seemed to be heading to half-time with little further of note until Barazite played the ball to Ozyakup inside the area.
Right of goal, the midfielder used his left foot to fire across keeper Taylor from the edge of the six-yard box. A confident finish to cap a good team move.
And the magic turned double-Dutch after the break when Barazite produced a moment of brilliance of his own.
With 53 minutes played he cut inside from the left, moved thorugh a pair of Birmingham defenders and smashed the ball into back of the net with his right foot.
Just before the hour Arsenal were presented with two golden opportunities to extend their lead within a minute.
First Barazite lost out as he tried to round the keeper and then Freeman saw the ball taken from his feet by Taylor as he too tried to round the Birmingham keeper.
Shortly after Mannone was forced into a fine save after Akwasi Asante received the ball from Luke Rowe.
The striker bore down on goal and aimed for the bottom corner. But Mannone dived low to his left, producing a good save to thwart the visitors.
The game ended true to itself with Arsenal pushing forward. Substitute Roarie Deacon came close in stoppage time but smashed his shot wide after good work from Cedric Evina on the left.
The Gunners' next second-string match is away at title rivals Villa on Easter Monday.
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