Date: 9th March 2012 at 10:31am
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The Ladies and Reserves sides find themselves at something of an inverse purpose as we move into March. Whilst the Ladies are ramping up for a season that starts in earnest this Sunday, whilst the Reserves have only four games remaining until the curtain comes down on their season. That is, unless they can overhaul current Premier League South leaders Aston Villa, who are six points clear of 2nd placed Arsenal with a game in hand to boot. (The winners of the Reserve League South play a one off final with the winners of the Reserve League North- in which Manchester United currently lead Sunderland on goal difference with a game in hand. Finals alternate each year between the home ground of the Southern winners and the Northern winners. This year the final will be held in the North).

The second string continued their fine run with another impressive win against last year`s Premier League Reserve champions Chelsea at their Cobham training ground. As is custom at this point of the season, the starting line up had a young look to it, with graduates such as Serge Gnabry, Elton Monteiro and Kyle Ebecilio given starting berths. But Arsenal were bolstered by a couple of returning loanees. I wrote about Gavin Hoyte`s return from AFC Wimbledon last week. Chuks Aneke has been something of a star turn for the Reserves in the last 12 months, but he endured a mixed time with Stevenage Borough on loan- rather emphasising the quality gap that still exists between Reserve level and the Football League.

Every time I have seen the Reserves since last season. Aneke looks to have found this level almost anodyne (though I`ve never actually managed to work out which position he actually plays in- the boy just seems to roam). A skilful yet powerful specimen, you`d imagine he has the ingredients for a very successful career if he can carve out a niche for himself. He opened the scoring against Chelsea too with a tidy finish. From the highlights it looked as though Aneke was involved in everything good Arsenal did, but the talk again has been of 16 year old German playmaker Serge Gnabry. Having come into the side at the turn of the year, Gnabry has impressed with his calmness in possession and his eye for a pass. Having scored for the U-18s just 48 hours prior to the game at Cobham, the playmaker was drafted in again and didn`t look out of place.

Unfortunately, his compatriot Thomas Eisfield- a January signing from Dortmund- is already showing Arsenal DNA. He had been pencilled in for a return from injury for the game, but suffered a setback in training, allowing Gnabry to play. Another recent signing came from the bench to seal the result. Catalonian Hector Bellerin showed a great turn of pace to- to adopt English parlance- skin the Chelsea full back to score. Bellerin came to Arsenal with Jon Toral as part of the agreement to let Fabregas return to Barcelona. Bellerin and Toral have recently been inducted into the Reserve picture, where they will probably feature more permanently next season with a view to breaking into a Carling Cup squad.

A 2-0 victory at Chelsea has to be considered a very impressive result. Especially considering mainstays Oguzhan Ozyakup and captain Ignasi Miquel were unavailable having been drafted into the first team for the Champions` League tie with Milan. Meanwhile centre half Daniel Boateng has returned early from a loan spell at Swindon Town. Boateng had joined at the end of January with the intention that he`d stay in Wiltshire until the end of the season. But having played only two games, he`s been returned with manager Paulo di Canio only adding that he needed further training. An odd comment as one presumes Swindon Town train every day! Sadly that suggests that there are other issues, though one can only speculate. Swindon currently have only 3 recognised fit defenders, so you`d imagine the 19 year old stunk the place out in one way or another to be released so early. Ryo Miyachi has fared slightly better on loan at Bolton Wanderers, winning their Player of the Month award for February. The Reserves next fixture is at home to West Brom on Wednesday night at Underhill. Admission is free.

Meanwhile, the Arsenal Ladies have had their preparation for the season somewhat hijacked by the Algarve Cup, which finished on Wednesday. (The men aren`t the only ones that have to suffer pointless pre season internationals!) Emma Byrne, Nahim Fahey and Ciara Grant played twice for Eire this week, Jayne Ludlow and Anghared James played twice for Wales, Kim Little and Jennifer Beattie featured for Scotland, whilst Ellie White and Steph Houghton featured in losses for England against France and a 3rd place playoff defeat to Italy. Danielle Carter and Melissa Lawley played in England U-19s 2-1 defeat to their Danish counterparts.

It`s hardly ideal preparation for Laura Harvey`s side. Particularly as not one of Arsenal`s women experienced victory this week! (Ludlow and James played against Byrne, Fahey and Grant in a 0-0 draw). There`s no gentle introduction either. On Sunday, the Ladies travel to Ashby Avenue for an F.A. Cup 5th Round tie away at Lincoln City. Then on Wednesday, the girls face a crunch Champions League Quarter Final 1st leg against Gothenburg at Borehamwood. “The Kopparbergs” as they are known (they are sponsored by the cider brewery) finished 2nd in last season`s Damallsvenskan and are the current Swedish cup holders. In Lisa Dalkhvist, they have just lost one of Europe`s most sought after players, as she recently transferred to Tyreso.

Arsenal will enter the tie as slight favourites, but then so did the men when they played A.C. Milan! The 2nd leg takes place in Sweden a week later, immediately following an away fixture at Liverpool in the WSL Intercontinental Cup. The first leg against Gothenburg takes place at Borehamwood on Wednesday afternoon at 2.30pm. Tickets are £5 adults £2.50 for children. This of course means the Ladies will play just a few hours before the Reserves take on WBA a few miles down the road. Needless to say, I will be attending both fixtures and will report on both in next week`s column.

And just as I go to press, the Arsenal Ladies have announced the resigning of Kelly Smith and Alex Scott for the forthcoming season. Smith, in her third stint at Arsenal, scored 100 goals in 109 appearances between 2005-07 and was the cornerstone of Arsenal’s unprecedented unbeaten quadruple run in the 2006-07 season. At 33, one imagines she’ll be a good mentor for up and coming strikers Jenny Beattie and Danielle Carter. Kelly Scott is a full back by trade, who joined Arsenal at the age of eight and has the distinction of having scored the winning goal in the 2007 UEFA Cup Final. Both Smith and Scott left for the States in 2009 to represent Boston Breakers, but have rejoined the Gunners as professional women’s football in the States is suspended for this season. LD.

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