By Chris Harris
Samir Nasri and Lukasz Fabianski returned from injury as Arsenal Reserves drew with Wolves on Tuesday night.
The French midfielder broke his leg on the opening day of Arsenal’s pre-season training camp in July while the Polish goalkeeper had knee surgery in August.
Both emerged unscathed from their long-awaited comebacks and Nasri even produced a perfect pass to set up the opening goal for Gilles Sunu.
That wasn’t enough to maintain Arsenal’s unblemished record in the Reserve League though.
Richard Stearman levelled with a thumping header on the stroke of half-time and Ashley Hemmings flashed a shot past Fabianski early in the second half to give Wolves the lead.
Sanchez Watt rounded off a splendid move seconds later and, although a draw kept Arsenal behind Aston Villa in the league table, it was probably a fair result.
Banfield made four changes from the side that beat Chelsea last time out but all eyes were on Fabianski and especially Nasri. The French star was deployed in a midfield three - a clue to how Arsene Wenger may use him in the first team – and was as neat and tidy as ever.
A rather more old-fashioned player dominated the opening exchanges though as Wolves’ centre forward Chris Iwelumo looked to unsettle the Arsenal back four with his height and power.
Indeed Wolves had the better of the early chances with David Davies testing Fabianski with a free-kick and Spearman nodding Scott Malone’s free-kick just past the post. The centre back had time to measure a volley moments later but got it all wrong from 10 yards.
Slowly, Arsenal found their rhythm and on 16 minutes they had their first real sight of goal. Craig Eastmond sparked a counter-attack with a well-timed interception on the edge of his own area. Mark Randall picked out Sanchez Watt and he fed Francis Coquelin before racing into the box for a return pass. When it came Watt swivelled well but smashed his shot over the bar.
It showed what Arsenal were capable of and, five minutes later, they got it right. Coquelin, a ball of energy in midfield, turned away from his marker and found Watt with his back to goal. The striker laid off for Nasri and he cracked a first-time pass into the path of Sunu’s intelligent run. The finish was as crisp as the move itself.
Chances continued to flow at both ends. Fabianski plunged to his right to deny Iwelumo’s clipped shot as Wolves hit back then Nasri almost doubled Arsenal’s advantage with a fierce strike but a deflection took the sting out of his shot.
When Wolves levelled, it was no surprise that it came from a set-piece. Mallone impressed with his dead-ball delivery all night and Spearman did what he had threatened to do earlier in the half, nodding the left-back’s right-wing centre past Fabianski. It was the first goal Arsenal had conceded in the Reserve League this season.
Randall almost embarrassed Carl Ikeme, the Pole’s opposite number, two minutes after the break when his fizzing free-kick ricocheted off the Wolves keeper and almost crept in.
Buoyed by their reprieve, the hosts took the lead. It was all Hemmings’ own work as he collected the ball 30 yards out and lashed a left-foot effort beyond Fabianski’s reach.
Arsenal responded seconds later with the move of the match. Coquelin and Kerrea Gilbert exchanged passes on the right and the latter raced into the box before pulling the ball back for Watt. He casually side-stepped a defender and, although Ikeme parried the shot, he couldn’t stop it crossing the line.
The game was there for the taking and both sides went for a winner. Randall curled a trademark chip over the bar from 30 yards and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing went even closer at the other end after a corner dropped at his feet.
By now Nasri was off after 58 invaluable minutes of action and on came Emmanuel Frimpong to add some midfield muscle.
His fellow substitute Rhys Murphy skewed a shot wide and then saw another effort blocked after two astute passes from Watt. But no one came closer to a winner than Sunu. He fired a thunderous effort towards the top corner in stoppage time but Ikeme flew to his left to tip the ball to safety.
It was tough on Sunu but probably fair on Wolves. Neither team deserved to lose this one.
Referee: M.J. Amphlett
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