By Joe Brewin at Princes Park
Arsenal’s youngsters suffered their first defeat of pre-season at the hands of Dartford on Wednesday night.
The hosts took the lead against the run of play through striker Harry Crawford towards the end of the first half, before Sanchez Watt levelled from the penalty spot immediately after the break.
But the night was to end in disappointment for Terry Burton’s young Gunners as Ryan Hayes capitalised on some slack defending from Sead Hajrovic to prod home a late winner.
The result may have disappointing but this was a positive run-out nonetheless.
Burton was able to include several of the promising youngsters who joined Arsene Wenger’s first-team squad in Asia as Kyle Bartley, Ignasi Miquel, Nico Yennaris, Craig Eastmond, Chuks Aneke and Thomas Eisfeld all started in Kent.
Meanwhile there were first starts of the summer for Hector Bellerin and Samir Bihmoutine, who occupied the full-back berths.
The young Gunners controlled possession from the off - but they were to be denied in the first period by a combination of ill fortune and the woodwork.
Yennaris side-footed over inside four minutes, before Miquel was on hand with some fine defending minutes later to block Jacob Erskine’s goalbound volley.
There were a string of nearly moments for Arsenal’s busy front four of Gnabry, Aneke, Eisfeld and Watt, with the former denied by a fine challenge inside the area.
Eisfeld came closest to breaking the deadlock with a volley after fine work from Bihmoutine on the left - but it was the visitors who almost struck first.
Striker Crawford collected a high ball over the top of the Gunners’ backline and jinked past Bartley, only for Damian Martinez to save low.
There were warning signs from the Conference National side - but this was a half Arsenal dominated.
The powerful Aneke was involved heavily and tested Louis Wells for the first time after a neat one-two with Eisfeld. The midfielder produced a similar finish 10 minutes before the break, but again Wells was equal to the effort.
Just one minute later, it was Dartford who opened the scoring. Adam Green collected Hayes’ excellent ball from midfield before squaring for Crawford to finish coolly past Martinez.
It had certainly not been coming but it left Burton’s youngsters with work to do in the second period. Gnabry was thwarted by the woodwork minutes before the break, crashing a strike off the post from the edge of the box.
Burton introduced Daniel Boateng, Hajrovic and Conor Henderson at the break - and it was the Republic of Ireland Under-21 international who made an immediate impact.
His perfectly-weighted ball found the intelligent run of Watt, who was bundled over for a penalty. As he did against Boreham Wood, the striker slotted home with ease to level the scores.
It was the perfect start to the half - but the young Gunners could not maintain their momentum.
Martinez was alert to save low from Jon Wallis after a cross was deflected into the midfielder’s path, before Crawford volleyed wide at the back post.
Watt was full of running throughout and should have fired Arsenal ahead with 20 minutes remaining. The striker latched onto to another fine ball from midfield but hacked a powerful effort wide.
Burton’s side pushed for a winner, but in the end it was Dartford who sealed victory 10 minutes from time. Winger Hayes pounced on a poor header back towards goal from Hajrovic before rounding Martinez and prodding home.
The deflated Gunners pushed hard for a way back into the game but the hosts held firm to see out another pre-season victory after wins against West Ham and Leyton Orient.
An Arsenal XI will face Chesham United in their final scheduled pre-season fixture on Saturday afternoon.
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