By Giuseppe Muro at Underhill
Arsenal Reserves twice surrendered the lead before late strikes from Joshua Rees and Luke Freeman eventually gave the second string a 4-2 victory over Sunderland on Tuesday.
Goals early in either half from Roarie Deacon and Jeremie Aliadiere, making his second successive start, had given Arsenal the initiative on two occasions before the visitors hit back almost immediately.
But two emphatic finishes, one from the right foot of Rees and another from the left of Freeman, in the final ten minutes ensured the Gunners kept their slim title chances alive and ended their home campaign in success.
Jens Lehmann played another 90 minutes and this evening also saw the welcome return of Emmanuel Frimpong, who featured heavily in Arsene Wenger’s pre-season plans before injuring knee ligaments in August.
The powerful midfielder got 22 minutes under his belt to put the finishing touches on a rewarding night for Neil Banfield’s boys.
A sizeable crowd, on a mild summer’s evening at Barnet, were treated to a pulsating start with Arsenal nearly going ahead within a minute.
Barely 30 seconds were on the clock when Freeman freed Aliadiere who side-footed just wide with the goal at his mercy.
But it wasn’t long before the supporting Gooners had something to cheer about when Deacon broke the deadlock.
After just four minutes Rhys Murphy fed Deacon inside the area who, after side-stepping a defender and shifting the ball onto his left foot, casually rolled the ball past Ben Wilson from 12 yards. He made it look easy.
Arsenal had the early advantage but it would last only two minutes.
Adam Mitchell slipped in Matthew Fletcher who drilled past a helpless Lehmann and into the bottom-right corner. All square then, and it seemed we had a real game on our hands.
But that frenetic opening preceded something of a lull.
A linesman’s flag, that went up before going down again, caused confusion inside the Arsenal back line and Lehmann was forced into his first save by diverting Ryan Noble’s effort behind.
Arsenal responded with a chance of their own, goalkeeper Wilson atoning for a mistake to keep out Freeman’s lob with a strong right hand.
A slip in the Arsenal defence presented a chance for Lynch, whose deflected effort fizzed just past the right post.
Both sides had chances just before the break but it remained all-square, and very much up for grabs, at the interval.
If the first half started at a frenetic pace, the opening of the second period was just as chaotic.
Aliadiere, almost exactly as he did earlier, went close directly from kick off. Then Freeman’s powerful drive was kept out by Wilson before a combination of Ignasi Miquel and Daniel Boateng somehow cleared off the line after a fine stop from Lehmann.
Boateng would make another telling contribution minutes later, this time at the other end of the pitch to put the ball on a plate for Aliadiere to give Arsenal the lead for a second time.
The central defender made a marauding run from the back before slipping a ball through to the French striker, who set himself before effortlessly slotting into the far-left corner via the post. A classy finish that, unfortunately, we didn’t see nearly enough of during his first spell with the Club.
Again, as was the case in the first half, Arsenal couldn’t hold onto their lead. This time Noble headed home from close range to level things up for a second time in the contest.
Conor Henderson then missed a gilt-edged opportunity to swing the tide back in the red side’s favour when he blazed over from Freeman’s clever backheel.
Frimpong was introduced in the 68th minute and the sight of the Ghanaian back in an Arsenal shirt was a welcome one after his injury troubles.
With barely time to feel his way back into the side, Freeman’s cut-back would see Frimpong go agonisingly close to marking his return with a goal.
But it would be another substitute who made a telling contribution.
Talented right-sided midfielder Rees lashed a shot into the far corner and past a motionless Wilson to put Arsenal ahead for, if you’re keeping up, a third time on the night.
Manager Banfield could have been forgiven for not celebrating after what had gone before but even he could afford a smile when Freeman put the game out of sight with what is becoming a trademark stunning goal.
From the edge of the area with his trusty left foot, the striker thundered into the roof of the net to put the game out of sight.
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