By Rob Kelly at Underhill
Arsenal Reserves ended an encouraging season in disappointing fashion with a 2-0 defeat to Everton at Underhill on Wednesday night.
Neil Banfield’s side fell behind in the 18th minute when England Under-21 international Ross Barkley burst through the home defence and fired in. Within four minutes the Gunners’ deficit was doubled when Jose Baxter drilled in from the penalty spot.
The hosts were much improved after the restart but could find no way through a stubborn Everton rearguard and fell to their first defeat since the January 24 reverse at Fulham.
Banfield rang the changes for his side's final game of the campaign, with Jordan Wynter and Philip Roberts making their first starts for the Reserves.
Damian Martinez was named in goal in place of James Shea, while Thomas Eisfeld returned to midfield, having played in a more advanced role during last month's 1-0 win at Newcastle.
Everton meanwhile named Barkley in a strong-looking side, along with Baxter and Greek forward Apostolos Vellios.
It was the visitors who got off to the brighter start and, with seven minutes on the clock, Martinez had to pull off a superb one-handed save to deny Vellios.
The Gunners responded well though, and came close to the opening goal when the lively Oguzhan Ozyakup weaved his way past two defenders and struck a firm shot that Adam Davies did well to push wide.
Banfield’s side struggled to turn possession into chances and on 18 minutes they fell behind when Baxter sent Barkley through. The impressive midfielder kept his composure to slot the ball into the bottom corner beyond Martinez.
It was a blow for the Gunners, who had only conceded once in their seven preceding matches, but they had half a chance to equalise moments later. Ozyakup found some space and dropped a lofted pass on to the head of Roberts, but his effort drifted just wide.
Within seconds Arsenal found themselves two goals down after Everton were awarded a penalty following a scramble in the home box. Baxter made no mistake with a crisply-struck drive into the bottom left-hand corner.
While Eisfeld saw an acrobatic overhead kick fly wide, and a firm shot saved, it was the visitors who remained the greater threat and Baxter nearly made it three with a 45-yard effort that drifted just over.
The second half saw a determined Arsenal try to up the tempo, and playing down the slope they came close through Ebecilio and Roberts on the hour mark.
As the rain started to pour down midway through the half, the heat rose as Baxter and Martin Angha scuffled following a challenge by the Everton forward on the Swiss defender.
Try as Arsenal might, they could not find the breakthrough their second-half efforts merited, although Eisfeld went close with a 25-yard drive that was tipped wide by Davies.
The defeat ended the Gunners’ superb recent run, but nonetheless it has been a positive season for the second string.
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