By Declan Taylor
Arsenal Reserves left it late to register their first home points of the season with a 3-2 victory over Stoke City at Underhill.
Amaury Bischoff and Mikael Silvestre made their first appearances in Arsenal red on what was, eventually, a successful night for Neil Banfield’s side.
The visitors took an early lead through a Vincent Pericard thunderbolt but Francis Coquelin’s first goal for the club and a Jay Simpson penalty saw Arsenal ahead at the break.
Stoke equalised against the run of play midway through the second half but Rui Fonte capitalised on a defensive mix-up to hand Banfield’s boys the victory.
The visitors were physical throughout and striker Louis Moult was dismissed with 20 minutes left to play after a crunching tackle on substitute Gilles Sunu.
Banfield reacted to the four goals conceded against Aston Villa last week by ringing the changes in the defence. Kyle Bartley was the only remaining member of last week’s back five and he partnered Silvestre in the centre of defence. Bischoff started his first game for Arsenal alongside captain Mark Randall in midfield.
Just like last week, the opening stages were even and, just like last week, the visitors were ahead within five minutes. Pericard shrugged off Randall’s challenge 25-yards from goal and lashed an unstoppable effort with the outside of his right foot into Szczesny’s top left-hand corner. It was certainly not the start Arsenal were hoping for.
Fonte was proving a constant threat to the Potters’ backline and he went close just before the half-hour. First, after a lovely one-touch move between Randall and Simpson, the Portuguese striker saw his piledriver deflected agonisingly over and then from the resulting corner Danzelle St. Louis-Hamilton in the Stoke goal somehow clawed his point-blank effort round the post.
The hosts grew in stature as the half drew on and got their reward just after the half hour. Coquelin, who had looked tigerish throughout, jinked in off the right-wing and drilled Arsenal back on terms from the edge of the area.
Stoke threatened briefly on the counter-attack and Silvestre was once again called upon. This time the Frenchman slid to block a low rasping drive from Nathaniel Weddenburn, but Banfield’s side still looked the most likely scorers and so it proved.
Some typically neat footwork from Wilshere drew a free-kick on the edge of the Stoke area and Mark Randall’s goal-bound effort was handled inside the box by Danny Pugh. Simpson stepped up and stroked his spot-kick into the bottom corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.
The four bookings that Stoke picked up in the first half were testament to the ‘rough-and-tumble’ that Arsenal had endured in the opening stages but the home side, unperturbed, stuck to their footballing principles.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bischoff was withdrawn just before the hour-mark and his replacement, Gilles Sunu, almost notched the Gunners’ third but he saw his low effort crash into the side-netting.
The visitors seemed devoid of ideas as Arsenal’s constant probing threatened to extend their lead but, against the run of play, Stoke got themselves level. Pericard turned provider this time, springing the offside trap and rolling the ball across the face of goal. Pugh was left with the simple task of slotting the ball into the empty net.
A second bookable offence for Moult shortly afterwards reduced the visitors to 10-men but Arsenal, despite lashings of fluid football, created precious few chances.
It was an error in the defence that finally opened the door for them. Ryan Shawcross completely misjudged a high Randall through-ball allowing Fonte to skip through and roll the ball under the stranded St. Louis-Hamilton.
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