Reyes rewards Wenger's gamble by drawing first blood for Arsenal

Arsenal 3 - Manchester United 1
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The Independent Online

To judge from the quality Arsenal's reserve players showed in Cardiff yesterday they look a good bet for the Carling Cup. It was difficult to read much more into a lively Community Shield and not just because the event's winners have not gone on to be champions since 1996.

To judge from the quality Arsenal's reserve players showed in Cardiff yesterday they look a good bet for the Carling Cup. It was difficult to read much more into a lively Community Shield and not just because the event's winners have not gone on to be champions since 1996.

Arsenal are clearly further ahead in their pre-season preparation than their perennial rivals, and United's increasingly ragged defending should concern Sir Alex Ferguson, with a Champions' League qualifier to play in Bucharest on Wednesday. However, when the Premiership begins on Saturday both teams will be much more recognisable.

Yesterday each fielded makeshift XIs with Cesc Fabregas and David Bellion the most surprising inclusions. Fabregas, a 17-year-old Spaniard previously with Barcelona, may have become Arsenal's youngest goalscorer last season when he was on target in a Carling Cup tie but few supporters would recognise him. Bellion is better known, but did nothing last season to suggest United's poaching of him from Sunderland was worth the acrimony.

The French winger was again utterly anonymous, but Fabregas exemplified Arsenal's greater verve with an impressive game. Showing a composure and touch which belied his youth, Fabregas fully deserved the ovation he was given when substituted.

Fabregas had taken his place in an inexperienced but adventurous midfield, Jermaine Pennant and Jose Antonio Reyes flanking him and Gilberto Silva. The line-up was a reminder of the importance of Patrick Vieira, who was nowhere to be seen but may soon crop up in Madrid. Pondering his imminent transfer, one had to feel for the supporter spotted walking to the stadium with the new Arsenal shirt on his back adorned with the legend 'Vieira 4'.

The Gunners actually wore all blue yesterday, a strip reminiscent of the old Wimbledon, but that was the only resemblance. Far from piling forward and "putting it in the mixer", they rarely managed to get a striker into the box in the opening half, which meant some exquisite approach play from Dennis Bergkamp in particular went begging.

The Dutchman lit up the opening period with his enduring class, evident as he nutmegged Mikaël Silvestre after five minutes, then released Pennant. Thierry Henry's execution failed to match the quality of the move. Bergkamp, having again fooled Silvestre, then chipped just over Tim Howard's bar before he tested the United goalkeeper from 25 yards.

So far, all foreign, but Sven Goran Eriksson, seeking respite from further revelations about his private life in the tabloids, did have some Englishmen to watch. Sadly, the first to spark was Paul Scholes, who only reminded the England manager of what he would be missing as he twice stretched Jens Lehmann either side of cleverly creating an opening for Ryan Giggs.

Alan Smith is available to Eriksson and, with Wayne Rooney injured, will hope to claim a place in the squad to play Ukraine in nine days' time. His United debut was generally busy rather than outstanding, but it was illuminated by an eye-catching equaliser shortly before the hour. Smith also delivered a fine left-wing cross from which Gary Neville brought a smart save from Lehmann as United finished the first half the stronger.

Arsenal then introduced Robin van Persie for Henry, who was presumably rested after a pre-season Achilles problem. The £2.75m signing from Feyenoord took up a left-flank position, with Reyes moving inside. The young Spaniard relished his new position, immediately dribbling through the United defence, wrong-footing Silvestre and Howard, only to shoot into the side-netting.

Reyes did not let this howler bother him. A minute later he broke clear following a sublime pass by Bergkamp, drew Howard then squared for Gilberto to tap in.

On his Arsenal debut in this fixture two years ago the Brazilian's goal had defeated Liverpool. This time Smith quickly cancelled it out, capitalising on hesitant defending by Kolo Touré and Pascal Cygan with a spectacular 20-yard volley.

Arsenal's lead was soon restored. Bergkamp, on the right, picked out Gilberto, who squeezed a pass away under heavy pressure for Reyes to drive in.

A welter of substitutions, which must have made Eriksson feel very much at home, further devalued the contest but a 71st-minute bout of argy-bargy showed both sides were still committed. Mike Dean, the referee, took a lenient view, merely booking Eric Djemba-Djemba and Ashley Cole.

The latter, who otherwise had an excellent match, then created Arsenal's third goal. Taking advantage of some inept play by Gary Neville and John O'Shea, he weaved into the box and sought to cross only for Silvestre to deflect the ball past Howard. The first trophy of the season was Arsenal's, but neither side will put much store by that.

There were two discordant notes on what is supposed to be the day football wears its community hat. Two fans were arrested for throwing missiles - a cigarette lighter and a bolt - at Henry as he went to take a corner after 17 minutes. Henry stopped and handed the weapons to referee Dean, who reported the incident. The police, aided by video, acted with admirable haste. It was a reminder that, even at a friendly match, passions can run too high in our national obsession.

The other unedifying aspect of the day was the overly intrusive promotion of the sponsors. Never mind Sven and Faria, the Football Association's continuing ties with a coven of snackfood manufacturers is the real scandal.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Cygan, Cole; Pennant, Gilberto, Fabregas (Svard, 86), Reyes (Hoyte, 79); Bergkamp (Aliadiére, 61; Clichy, 69); Henry (Van Persie, h-t). Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Senderos.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Howard; G Neville, O'Shea (Spector, 81), Silvestre, Fortune (P Neville, 50); Bellion, Djemba-Djemba, Keane (Fletcher, 50), Giggs (Forlan, 50); Scholes (Richardson, 73); Smith (Eagles, 73). Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk).

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Arsenal: Cole. Manchester United: P Neville, Djemba-Djemba.

Man of the match: Bergkamp.

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