Yesterday’s Reserve game against Norwich at Carrow Road was something of a throwback, with the Arsenal side comprising several familiar first-team names, including Andrey Arshavin who just 12 months previously scored the winner against Barcelona in the first leg of a Champions League Last 16 tie.
Joining Arshavin in the side were Yossi Benayoun, Ju Young Park, Marouane Chamakh and Carl Jenkinson, players who, either through injury, international commitments or a lack of form have struggled to command regular game time this season.
The result was emphatic with the Gunners running out 5-0 victors against an admittedly young Norwich side. Arshavin scored twice, which will hopefully help restore his confidence, whilst there was also a rare goal for Park. Benayoun shone throughout and also got on the scoresheet whilst the other goal was also a success story in that it came from Benik Afobe, the promising young striker who was making just his second appearance of the season after injury halted his progress. Afobe also found time to miss a penalty, whilst Arsenal created countless other chances as they dominated proceedings.
This is not a common occurrence at second-string level, with coach Neil Banfield usually calling upon young professionals and, increasingly, members of Steve Bould’s under-18 side to make up the numbers. The Reserve league is now effectively an under-21 league, but last night showed that it can still be used as it used to be in previous decades: as a stage for senior players lacking game time to prove their worth and increase their confidence.
In that regard, last night looked to have served the club well, despite the loss of Chamakh to injury just before the break. As well as the first-team members, Oguzhan Ozyakup was dominant in midfield and the player, who recently switched his international allegiance to Turkey, looks set to be the next member of Banfield’s side to head out on loan in order to garner further experience.
Afobe’s return was also a welcome boost, although it would perhaps be asking a little too much to expect him to have any say on the first-team picture in the remainder of the season given that he is lacking fitness having been out for so long. Nonetheless, a Championship loan next campaign would stand him in good stead for the future.
Recent signing Thomas Eisfeld was again absent through injury having failed to recover from the problem sustained on his debut against Swansea. The young German suffered a setback in training recently but the blow is not thought to be too serious.
For those youngsters that did feature, however, last night would have been both a memorable and useful experience, as well as being a reminder that you are never too good to play for the Reserves (unless you’re Robin van Persie).