Date: 8th May 2012 at 5:25pm
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Due to other commitments I was unable to produce the Ladies and Reserves column last Friday. However, as a small administrative note, it will likely move to Mondays from now on. With the Reserves` season over, I don`t anticipate much to write about beyond the cull of second stringers that occurs every May. The Ladies however, play during the summer and predominantly do so on Sundays, so the column will become Lady-centric over the summer in any case. It makes sense to realign accordingly.

In any case, I will begin with Neil Banfield`s Reserve side, who ended their campaign with a disappointing 2-0 reverse to Everton at Underhill. Though the Gunners fielded a very young side, with the likes of Philip Roberts, Jordan Wynter and Josh Rees handed starts- all of whom will probably be promoted to the Reserves next season having spent much of their season with Steve Bould`s U-18 side. Everton, on the other hand, had first team experience with the likes of Jose Baxter, Ross Barkley, Shane Duffy and Apostolos Vellios in the starting XI. The chasm in experience showed as Everton controlled the game, winning 2-0 and deservedly so. A Baxter through ball for Barkley too easily split Miquel and Boateng in half for the Toffees` first, with Martinez having already produced a brilliant stop to deny Vellios.

Though Everton`s 2nd did come courtesy of the worst penalty decision I have ever seen. A corner was flung into the box by Barkley, the ball scrambled around the area, Francisco Junior swung at the ball, missed it and the referee pointed to the spot to the bemusement of all. Junior didn`t even fall to the ground with his air shot. Not one person I spoke to inside the ground had even the faintest clue what the penalty was awarded for. The referee even achieved the remarkable feat of angering a reserve crowd in the second half, after allowing Jose Baxter to kick Ebecilio into the air (a feat he was roundly booed for for the remainder of the game), then stood by and did nothing as Jordan Wynter exacted revenge with a kick of his own. Only when Barkley nibbled back at Wynter and a fracas ensued did he intervene following an exchange of brutal fouls. It takes a special level of incompetence to lose control of a reserve game.

In any case, Everton were well worth their win. Banfield`s side was something of a mish mash. Daniel Boateng played for 90 minutes in a shop window exercise (incidentally, Millwall manager Kenny Jackett was sat directly behind me) and one would imagine Ignasi Miquel will go out on loan next season to further his development. Thomas Eisfield completed 90 minutes but looked severely lacking in sharpness after injury, whilst Jernade Meade will likely head the exit queue in the summer too- be it on loan or permanently. Goalkeeper Damian Martinez once again caught the eye and even unexpectedly found himself starting for Oxford United on Saturday as an emergency loan signing. However, he didn`t have such a great time as the O`s playoff dreams were ended by a 3-0 defeat at Port Vale.

Arsenal look set to finish the Reserve League in 2nd place, though the teams in 3rd and 4th- Fulham and West Brom- play one another yet. If Fulham beat West Brom in Birmingham on Wednesday afternoon, they will leapfrog the Gunners into 2nd. Any other result keeps Arsenal beneath Southern Area Champions Aston Villa, who playoff against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Thursday night to determine the overall winner of the Reserve Premier League. Now the brutal process of informing the younger players who will be released this summer begins, with an announcement expected at the end of May in order to allow the lads plenty of time to find a club in the summer.

Laura Harvey`s Ladies` side meanwhile have endured a topsy turvy week. Following the announcement of Faye White`s pregnancy, the air of maternal bliss was added to the squad with the news that Scottish striker Julie Fleeting gave birth to a healthy baby girl last Wednesday. Fleeting had been a mainstay striker in the Gunners side prior to her maternity leave. It`s unclear when she will return to action, but it`s unlikely to be until later in the year at the earliest. After the initial tie was rained off last Sunday, I faithfully took my seat at Griffin Park on Thursday night for the F.A. Cup semi-final with Chelsea. It was one of the more unbelievable games I have ever witnessed.

Many of you will recall the men`s team drawing 0-0 with CSKA Moscow back in 2006 in the most belief defying circumstances as chance after chance went begging. This was similar. Only Chelsea grabbed two breakaway goals with their only chances of note. In fairness, the opening goal from Helen Bleazard was an absolute pearler. Running at Flaherty and Grant, Bleazard took full advantage of the Arsenal defence`s reticence with a delightful curling 25 yard shot into the top corner. Arsenal took time to settle thereafter, with the steadying influence of Jayne Ludlow unavailable due to injury; Steph Houghton played an unfamiliar defensive midfield role. Ellen White is also sidelined due to a back injury and her clinical finishing was a big miss too with Dani Carter also struggling for fitness due to an achilles knack.

The crammed schedule has clearly played havoc with Harvey`s squad. The manager has been desperately trying to give the overworked Houghton a breather. Steph was originally on the bench for the WSL encounter with Chelsea, only to be called into action due to an injury in the warm up to Ludlow. On Sunday she was rested to the bench again for the WSL game with Liverpool only to be called up 30 minutes into the game when Carter hobbled off. But Arsenal eventually settled into the game and must have topped twenty efforts at goal. But they found Chelsea reserve keeper Sarah Quantrill in fine form with a series of gravity defying stops. On the one occasion she was beaten, as Yankey`s shot ricocheted heavily off of Sophie Perry and looped goalwards, Sophie Ingle was alert enough to track back to her goal line to make an excellent clearance. Just as the pressure reached a premium, Dania Susi headed in a Bonner free kick on one of the rare occasions Chelsea had ventured into the Arsenal half.

Having just lost a Champions League semi final in more felicitous circumstances, losing to a clearly superior team, this was a cruel blow for Harvey`s girls. Chelsea will play Birmingham City in the Final at Ashton Gate on May 26th. It`s hard to believe there will be much of a crowd in Bristol for a Final between London and Midlands opponents and I do wonder if the F.A. could be a little more flexible in their choice of final venues. Perhaps holding off until at least the semi final stage. I can`t imagine a Ladies Cup Final requires an enormous security operation. But perhaps there is an administrative reason I am ignorant of.

Harvey was left with the task of picking the girls up for a WSL game with Liverpool on Sunday at Lanarkshire F.C. on Sunday. Emma Byrne was added to the growing injury list. As mentioned above, Dani Carter only lasted 30 minutes before an achilles complaint got the better of her. With White and Kelly Smith still out in the meantime and Fleeting a way off returning, it leaves Arsenal`s striker options looking sparse. However, a couple of Kim Little penalties gave Arsenal a comfortable 2-0 win to extend their lead at the top of the league to 4 points. Everton had kept the heat on with a 1-0 win over Lincoln and Birmingham defeated Doncaster Belles 4-0, leaving Chelsea and Bristol Academy off the pace with a 0-0 draw that did neither party any favours. Little had missed her previous spot kick for Arsenal against Everton in April and also missed from 12 yards for Scotland in March. But she showed no compunction with two conversions in the Northwest to gift Arsenal the points. With the amount of injuries, Academy product Bianca Bragg was also able to make her debut from the bench.

With two legs of a possible Quadruple gone, the Gunners aim to get their cup aspirations back on track with a Continental Cup encounter against Lincoln City at Ashby Avenue on Sunday. The Gunners defeated Lincoln at the semi final stage last year in the tournament for which they are holders. Arsenal will look to build on their 3-0 win over Liverpool in the first group game. Their next WSL fixture takes place against the same opponents at the same venue next Sunday, 20th May. Harvey hopes to have Ellie White back by then, at least. A quirk of the fixture list means that Arsenal will be away from home in all four of their May matches, which is sure to test the resources of Harvey`s squad to the fullest. Until next week. LD.

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