Date: 16th March 2012 at 1:29pm
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It`s been another very busy week for the club bubbling below the exploits of the first team. The Arsenal Ladies have kicked their season off with a pair of valuable cup wins, whilst the Reserves too made their return to Underhill in a winning fashion- boosted as they were by the involvement of a cabal of first team players. The recruitment drive too has been in full swing with another Arsenal youngster going out on loan to further their education and with Arsenal Ladies again profiting from the suspension of the WPL in the States by resigning another former player.

Following last week`s Algarve Cup, which saw most of Laura Harvey`s squad spend the final week of pre season preparation in Cyprus; the Lady Gunners resumed their F.A. Cup campaign at Ashby Avenue last Sunday. Ellen White`s first half winner saw them eke out a hard fought 1-0 win over Lincoln City Ladies. The draw for the Quarter Final hasn`t necessarily been kind to Arsenal as they face Everton, albeit at home, on Sunday, 25th March at Borehamwood. As ever, tickets are £5 adults` £2.50 concessions. Everton are one of the forerunners to try and quell Arsenal`s dominance and defeated Arsenal in the 2010 Women`s F.A. Cup Final. Last season Arsenal enjoyed mixed fortunes against the Toffees, avenging a 3-1 away defeat with a narrow 1-0 home victory in the WSL. Arsenal remain hot favourites to retain the trophy, though Birmingham City, who face Sunderland in one of the other Quarter Finals, might have something to say about that should Arsenal qualify.

The hard fought win over Lincoln set the Gunners up nicely for their Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg encounter with Gothenburg Koppabergs. Conveniently, I had already booked the day off owing to other reasons, enabling me to get down and see the 2.30pm kickoff. (I`m told that Ladies Champions League games commence at this time for our home games as Borehamwood`s floodlights don`t meet UEFA standards). A thoroughly absorbing contest it was too. Arsenal began much the brighter but found themselves behind after a quarter of an hour when Lisa Ek caught Emma Byrne and her defence sleeping with a quick free kick from the edge of the box which trickled in off the post. Arsenal were rattled by that and Gothenburg could easily have gone 2-0 ahead had Emma Byrne not brilliantly stretched to claw away Sarah Linden`s lob.

The Ladies play very dynamically, with a lone striker supported from the flanks- in this case the re-signed Alex Scott took up Rachel Yankey`s usual slot. Ellie White is supported by the late runs of pocket dynamos Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little. Faye White was back on the substitutes bench after a long spell out with injury. But Arsenal got themselves back into the tie when Ludlow bombed forward to meet White`s cross and Jordan Nobbs ran onto the knockdown untracked to equalise from close range. It`s the kind of goal that has become her specialty since moving from the Northeast. It was an intriguing game at this stage with Arsenal giving the Koppabergs problems with balls into the box, but the Swedes looked very dangerous on the counter attack.

The second half was a different prospect however as Arsenal seized control. That said, they really ought to have been 2-1 down in the early stages of the half when Ahlstrand connected with a right wing cross but spooned the ball onto the bar from a matter of four yards. It was a let off and one Arsenal gratefully heeded. White had a goal disallowed for offside as the screw was turned. They took a deserved lead when Fahey found Little inside the box and she was bundled over. Little dusted herself off and climbed to her feet to convert the penalty. England Player of the Year Ellie White grabbed her second goal of the week when she finished from Houghton`s cross. Substitute Jennifer Beattie then had a quite brilliant header ruled out for offside. But Arsenal now take a 3-1 lead to Sweden.

The away goal keeps the tie alive and the Koppabergs offered enough threat to make you think Arsenal should be on their mettle. The second leg takes place in the Valhalla IP Stadium in Gothenburg next Wednesday, kickoff 7pm. That said, Arsenal offer so much goal threat you`d expect them to score in Sweden. At this level, I`m not sure how much advantage a home game yields given the small crowds that watch and the fact that very few Ladies` teams play on their own grounds. But the schedule is tough, with a WSL Continental Cup clash away at Liverpool to come this Sunday. It explains why Harvey has beefed out her squad by recalling some stateside renegades. Gemma Davison returns to the Gunners from Sky Blue in New Jersey. Davison is another striker capable of playing across the front line. With Rachel Yankey advancing in years, you have to fancy her, Alex Scott and Yankey to share the wide berths, with White competing with Kelly Smith and youngsters Carter and Beattie for the spearhead centre forward role.

A good week for the Ladies was supplanted by Neil Banfield`s Reserve side continuing their excellent run of form. Immediately following the finish of the Ladies match at Borehamwood on Wednesday afternoon, it was in the car for the short drive to Barnet`s Underhill to see the Reserves take on West Bromwich Albion. With the first team out of all cup competitions, the schedule isn`t exactly burgeoning for the final eight weeks, which is enabling Arsene to send some of his underperformers to play in the stiffs. (Still no sign of Almunia though; I`m told he now practices with the U-18s). The presence once again of Marouane Chamakh and Ju Young Park emphasises just how low their stock is. Johan Djourou and Carl Jenkinson were given a game to sharpen up following injury, as was Andre Santos, playing his first football since tearing ankle ligaments in December.

The greater experience of the aforementioned were aided and abetted by younger lights such as Serge Gnabry along with reserve mainstays Yennaris, Ozyakup and Chuks Aneke. Park played in an unfamiliar right side role, with Gnabry moving out to the left, supporting Chamakh. Frankly, though Chamakh and Park performed reasonably well, neither did a great deal to convince that they were a cut above this level. Whereas you could tell Jenkinson and Santos and to a lesser extent the very underworked Djourou were first teamers, that distinction did not really come across with either of our back up strikers.

It`s true Park scored a very nice goal to open the scoring. Ozyakup pulled something of a Vieira in the centre circle, looping the ball over his opponent`s head, before catching it on his boot and spinning away, feeding Park on the right. The Korean collected, cut inside and hammered into the bottom corner with his left foot. Park did not contribute much else, save for a few shanked crosses. But on the basis that he looks vaguely capable of finding a bovine`s backside with a banjo, you`d have to have him ahead of Chamakh in first team contention. We don`t tend to play to Chamakh`s strengths, but in any case, his confidence is such that he looks allergic to the penalty area anyway.

Arsenal were making very easy work of a young West Brom side (of whom I did not recognise a single player having glanced at the team sheet). The Gunners` second was slightly comical. Aneke`s slide rule pass sent Chamakh clear on goal; he lumbered towards the area with the Baggies defender catching him and saw his shot blocked. The ball fell wide to Aneke, who crossed. Chamakh stayed firmly on his arse in the six yard box, the ball hitting it and ricocheting nicely to Gnabry who lashed home from close range. I`m not sure if that hapless piece of play qualifies as an assist for the Moroccan but he should probably take what he can get right now. It`s very slim pickings for him.

The second half was as uncompetitive a contest as you`re likely to see. West Brom didn`t manage a single shot of any kind. Before the hour mark Arsenal slayed the game as a contest. Santos, who increasingly grew into the game as an attacking threat, fed Chamakh in the left channel who teed up Aneke, Aneke proceeded to bend a curling shot into the bottom corner from the eighteen yard line. Santos was replaced by Jernade Meade after 60 minutes, whilst Park and Chamakh made way for Angha and Afobe soon after, all pre planned changes I dare say. Jenkinson had one cleared off the line as Arsenal threatened to run riot. But 3-0 was a satisfying scoreline, meaning Banfield`s side have now won six on the trot. It is a run that will probably come too late to win the Reserve League though, with Villa still six points ahead with a game in hand and the Gunners having only three games to catch them.

Serge Gnabry again caught the eye, this time playing from the left when, like a lot of Arsene-esque players, he prefers to operate centrally. Whereas Aneke for instance appeared to shy away in the shadows of more senior players, Gnabry appeared to relish that. However, there’s been a little buzz around this boy just beginning to surface. He’s only 16 and it’s important to be realistic. He looks a precocious talent indeed. But so too did Fran Merida when he was 16. Different players develop at different rates and it’s important for supporters and the player to appreciate that with perspective.

Banfield`s side travel to Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon at the Reds` Melwood training complex. Abou Diaby is widely tipped to play, but with the first team in action at Everton the following day, Banfield will likely revert to a more familiar reserves line up. In other news, 18 year old keeper Sean McDermott has joined Leeds on loan for a month. Argentine Damiano Martinez is firmly established as the Reserves number 1, with James Shea behind. The club will probably have a clearout of custodians in the summer, with Fabianski and Almunia out of contract, Mannone found wanting at Arsenal`s level and McDermott and Shea showing little sign of being realistic long term options. One imagines Damiano Martinez- who is highly rated at London Colney- will be promoted to 3rd choice with another more experienced goalie signing to challenge Szczesny in the nets.

It’s also worth pointing out in closing that Arsenal Reserves may still appear at Underhill next season afterall. Barnet F,C, have negotiated to play at the 107 year old stadium for a final year whilst they erect some stands at their Beehive training ground complex. The reliable Young Guns Blog also alleges that discussions have resumed to reignite the traditional Arsenal v Barnet pre season fixture at Underhill. It’s not widely known that Arsenal did apply for planning permission to put some stands up at London Colney, presumably to allow spectators to watch the Reserves in the same way Fulham manage at Motspur Park. But that seems to have gone somewhat quiet. Anyway, that wraps it up for this week. More next Friday. LD.

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