By Giuseppe Muro at Woodside Park
An extremely youthful Reserve XI went down 3-2 to a West Ham side brimming with Premier League pedigree on Tuesday.
Neil Banfield will no doubt take a number of positives from this trip across London, but a trio of gifts in the shape of two headers a close-range volley meant Arsenal left with nothing.
After falling behind to Dylan Tombides’ early strike, the second string responded in gritty fashion and got back on level terms through the unlikely source of right back Sead Hajrovic.
But slack defending was punished by two headers in the space of ten minutes which left Arsenal facing an uphill battle. A battle they took to manfully, but could only muster Rhys Murphy’s outrageous chip in the way of a reply.
The Hammers named a team with a vast array of first-team experience. Nine senior members, including Julian Faubert, Radoslav Kovac, Pablo Barrera and former Gunner Luis Boa Morte were included in Steve Lomas’ starting XI.
In contrast, Banfield’s side had even less experience than in recent weeks, with Ignasi Miquel and Conor Henderson missing.
What the Arsenal side lacked in age, they more than made up with hunger and spirit during the opening exchanges. Indeed, they were unlucky not to go ahead after just 30 seconds when Roarie Deacon burst into the area and fired at the legs of Rudd Boffin from a tight angle.
The boys in yellow were far from being overawed by their experienced hosts, but went behind after ten minutes when Tombides got his first.
Arsenal were caught cold from a quick West Ham free kick on halfway. Boa Morte took advantage of the space left by George Brislen-Hall to cross expertly for 16-year-old, who finished well with his left foot.
Both sides exchanged half chances before Hajrovic levelled it up, partly thanks to a huge slice of fortune in the shape of a killer deflection.
Oguzhan Ozyakup stood over a free kick 25 yards from goal and, instead of crossing, rolled the ball inside the area. After a few ricochets, Hajrovic’s left-footed effort hit a West Ham leg before looping over the helpless Boffin.
The goal sparked a spell of Arsenal pressure and Luke Freeman, along with the whole Arsenal bench, claimed a penalty after the striker’s shot appeared to hit a hand. Nothing doing.
After 35 minutes, Banfield would have been pleased to see his young team matching their significantly elder counterparts. But a pair of headers in the final ten minutes of the first period meant West Ham went into the break two goals to the good.
A couple of crosses from the right, delivered by Faubert and Boa Morte, led to powerful finishes from Hines and then the impressive Tombides to get his second right on the stroke of half time.
Banfield responded with a double change; Hajrovic and Daniel Boateng were replaced by Josh Rees and Martin Angha.
The second half started brightly and Murphy’s audacious chip got Arsenal right back in the game.
Herita Ilunga gifted the ball to Arsenal carelessly and Freeman slipped in Murphy just inside the area. Boffin was barely a yard off his line but, somehow, the captain for the day dinked the ball expertly over him and into the net with an sublime piece of skill. The West Ham stopper could only watch and admire.
Following the goal, West Ham stepped up a gear and Tombides went close to completing his hat-trick when he rattled the post from long range with James Shea beaten.
The game became stretched as Arsenal searched for an equaliser and West Ham pressed for that killer fourth.
Angha and Thomas Cruise made crucial blocks from Tombides and Hines while Cristian Montano’s stinging drive grazed the crossbar late on.
The final chance of the night fell to Deacon but he could only shoot straight at Boffin when the ball fell kindly to him eight yards out.
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