By Giuseppe Muro
Arsenal Reserves ended their year on a high with a 1-0 win over West Brom on a frosty Tuesday night at the Hawthorns.
Ignasi Miquel headed the only goal of the game after 20 minutes to give Neil Banfield’s side a slender victory they certainly deserved.
It was their seventh in nine Reserve League fixtures this season, a return that has taken the second string to the top of their table. Next up in the New Year? Away at title rivals Aston Villa.
The Arsenal team coach was delayed by major traffic congestion on this particular trip to the Midlands meaning the players didn’t arrive until 15 minutes after the scheduled 7pm kick-off.
Proceedings were put back 50 minutes and even when the away side did eventually arrive at the ground, there was still a doubt as to whether the match would go ahead with over two thirds of the pitch covered in a white blanket of frost.
After barely ten minutes of a warm up that consisted of a few short sprints, the game got underway. Some of the Arsenal players had barely touched a football.
The team that did start the match was a mixture of both youth and relative experience. That blend was summed up perfectly by the back four that consisted of captain Miquel, Havard Nordtveit and Academy players Sead Hajrovic while at left back there was a debut for George Brislen-Hall.
Second-string regulars Oguzhan Ozyakup and Craig Eastmond formed a central midfield partnership and Conor Henderson started on the left.
Despite their preparation, or lack of it, the Gunners started much the brighter of the two sides as they kept the ball well on difficult and demanding pitch.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas forced two brilliant finger-tip saves from Ryan Allsop within two early first-half minutes. Firstly his curling free kick was pushed over the bar and then he had close-range header tipped wide by the West Brom stopper.
But barely a minute after the second of those chances, Arsenal went ahead through the most unlikely source.
The ball was worked wide to Emmanuel-Thomas on the right who cut onto his left foot before crossing into a dangerous position towards the lurking Miquel who had stayed forward from a corner. The defender found himself in space on the penalty spot and planted a firm header into the left corner and past a motionless Allsop.
The away side were well worth their lead.
Five minutes later West Brom could, and perhaps should, have equalised. Saido Berahino got to the byline before sliding a ball agonisingly along the six-yard box but no-one in a West Brom shirt was on hand and Arsenal breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Both sides exchanged half-chances as the first period drew to a close with first Ozyakup and then Ismael Miller forcing smart saves from their opposing goalkeepers.
Then, six minutes after the restart, Emmanuel-Thomas went close to doubling the lead.
Henderson carved open the West Brom defence with a great diagonal ball over the top to find the striker. With his first touch he would delightfully bring the ball down and and get clear from James Hurst - with his second he would hit a left-footed shot towards the far-right corner. With Allsop’s momentum taking him the other way he somehow managed to stick out a toe and divert the ball wide.
West Brom hadn’t started playing but as the second half got going the home side began to enjoy longer spells of possession. With that came chances as Miller went close on a few occasions.
The game petered out slightly as players tired on a heavy pitch and in the end Arsenal came closest to extending their lead.
Nordtveit’s weaving run into the area almost created an opening before he was forced wide and Eastmond stung the palms of Allsop in injury time.
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