By Joe Brewin at the Lamex Stadium
Arsenal's reserves continued their encouraging start to pre-season with a goalless draw against Stevenage on Saturday.
Terry Burton's youngsters - playing with two separate backlines in either half - provided their new manager with much food for thought after holding their own in a testing physical battle.
Serge Gnabry came closest with an early strike which struck the crossbar but there was to be no goals in an otherwise quiet affair in Hertfordshire. Instead this was to prove a refreshingly resilient display from the young Gunners.Burton continued with first-year scholar Chuba Akpom in attack, while exciting winger Gnabry returned to action after his injury lay-off. Daniel Boateng partnered Sead Hajrovic at the heart of defence as captain Martin Angha was employed at right back.Meanwhile, former Gunner Luke Freeman lined up for the hosts after completing a permanent transfer last season.Gary Smith named a full-strength team for the occasion and the physical presence of the hosts proved difficult to handle early on. Midfielder Greg Tansey fired wide inside four minutes before Freeman, lively from the off, directed a powerful effort off target three minutes later.But it was the young Gunners who went closest to the game’s opener against the run of play. Angha’s delightful cross-field ball was controlled superbly by Gnabry, who cut inside his man before unleashing a fine effort off the crossbar.It was a glimpse of the young German’s abilities on the ball and it was not long before Burton’s youngsters began to find their feet. Stevenage enjoyed good opportunities of their own to break the deadlock, however, and should have done inside 13 minutes when captain Mark Roberts failed to connect with former Chelsea man Filipe Morais’ fizzing cross.Three minutes later it was Morais himself who failed to test James Shea after diverting Robin Shroot’s cross-cum-shot into the hands of the Arsenal goalkeeper. But that was to prove the hosts’ final menacing opportunity of the first half. The young Gunners had found a foothold by this point and should have opened the scoring moments later when Gnabry headed Jernade Meade’s pinpoint cross over the bar from close range. Neither goalkeeper was significantly tested as the half wore on, with strong defences proving decisive in a goalless first period. Marcus Haber’s comfortable effort from range 15 minutes before the interval was the closest either side came. Burton made five changes at the break, introducing Isaac Hayden, Elton Monteiro, Hector Bellerin and first-year scholar Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill in a new back four. Sanchez Watt replaced Gnabry.The opening exchanges of the second period were largely quiet. The only drama inside the first 20 minutes was an unmanned goal after Shea was guilty of some slack possession - but Freeman could not connect with a difficult overhead kick from Darius Charles’ cross.Burton would have been pleased with his young side’s defensive prosperity in the second period, even if his front line struggled to test goalkeeper Chris Day.Their first real opportunity of the half arrived almost 15 minutes from time when Akpom headed wide from Conor Henderson’s well-flighted corner. Stevenage - or Freeman specifically - almost erupted into life in the 76th minute when the young forward’s venomous volley flew narrowly over Shea’s crossbar. The former Gunner was substituted to a grateful ovation just over 10 minutes before time - and deservedly so. His growing maturity as a player in the space of just one year is plain to see.Substitute Neita screwed an effort wide in a fitting reflection of a quiet second half as Burton’s youngsters held firm for a hugely encouraging clean sheet in Hertfordshire.
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