Reserves beaten by Arsenal

West Ham United 1 Arsenal 3

A young West Ham side suffered defeat against their experienced Arsenal counterparts in their penultimate Barclays Premiership Reserve League clash of the season at Upton Park, last night.

But the real bonus for both Hammers and England was the sight of Christian Dailly and Ashley Cole coming through this end-to-end encounter unscathed and on the road to recovery.

With the Gunners' second-string all but certain of a third-place finish and the tenth-placed Hammers only able to climb another two berths at best, all eyes were on the two experienced internationals.

For in an intriguing sub-plot, both 61-times capped Dailly - who appeared for a pre-determined hour - and England left-back Cole still have plenty to play before between now and the end of the season.

Indeed, as the clock ticks down towards the Millennium Stadium, May 13 and beyond, both men could yet still enjoy dramatic climaxes to their campaigns.

With heartbroken Hayden Mullins now looking all set to miss the FA Cup final through the three-match suspension sustained via his dismissal against Liverpool on Wednesday night, the fit-again, 32-year-old Dailly still has time to persuade Alan Pardew that he can step up to the plate at Cardiff.

And, of course, the 44-times capped Cole still needs to convince Sven-Goran Eriksson that he will be fit enough to help fly the Three Lions' flag at this summer's World Cup.

[PAGE]Certainly, Cole - who has played just 60 minutes of first-team football since October 2 - had the luxury of being surrounded by some more familiar Highbury names, while central defender Dailly - who tore a hamstring in Hammers' thrilling FA Cup quarter-final victory at Manchester City on March 20 - found himself marshalling a young Hammers' side boasting only Stephen Bywater and Hogan Ephraim with additional first-team experience.

Looking physically stronger in all areas, the more experienced heads of Arsenal started stronger and only an impressive last-gasp block by Junior Stanislas denied £5million teenager Theo Walcott an early opener.

On the quarter-hour mark, however, Hammers forced an advancing Mart Poom to tackle the escaping Jack Jeffrey on the edge of his area as the linesman's flag stayed down, but the visitors' relief was soon tempered by the enforced retirement of the injured Walcott shortly afterwards.

Undeterred by the loss of his strike-partner, towering Dane Nicklas Bendtner then sent a rising 20-yarder inches over Bywater's bar, but the young Hammers were visibly growing in confidence and stature themselves.

First Kyel Reid - an unused first-team substitute 24 hours earlier - unceremoniously bundled over Cole and, after David Cowley cleverly carved out an opening only to be denied by the diving Poom, Zavon Hines fizzed an 18-yarder inches wide.

In reply, Abu Diaby and Alex Song each tried their luck with wayward shots from range but, on 39 minutes, the move of the match finally led to Arsenal breaking the deadlock.

An incisive upfield Gunners' raid saw former Auxerre midfielder Diaby invite the supporting Bendtner to pull the trigger with a clinical low shot from 15 yards that both gave Bywater no chance and Arsenal an interval lead.

[PAGE]Just after the break, Cowley curled wide from 20 yards as West Ham started the second half brightly but, on 55 minutes, Arsenal doubled their advantage in equally spectacular style when, under pressure from Dailly and Bonz N'gala, Swedish starlet Sebastian Larsson let fly with an unstoppable 18-yarder.

Moments later, Bendtner drilled wide with just the Hammers' 'keeper to beat before seeing another low shot well saved by Bywater on the hour-mark, which proved the cue for Dailly's scheduled departure as he jogged off with that welcome 60-minute run-out under his belt.

Midway through the half, the lively Jeffrey sent a shot ripping into Poom's side netting and, shortly afterwards, the fleeing teenage striker unselfishly squared into no-man's land when, arguably, he should have shot.

On 72 minutes, however, Hammers finally got the reward their spirit and endeavour deserved when Ephraim's perfectly executed 20-yard free-kick whipped over the Arsenal wall and under the flat-footed Poom's right-hand angle.

With renewed hoped, West Ham pressed in search of an equaliser but, at the other end, searching substitute Anthony Stokes won a penalty after finding himself sandwiched between Hines and N'gala.

Bywater guessed correctly as he alertly dived low to his left to save Bendtner's low 85th-minute spot-kick but the determined Dane was not to be denied and, with seconds remaining, he embarked on another marauding, mazy solo run into the Hammers' box, drew the exposed 'keeper off his line and confirmed that third-place finish for Arsenal with a clinical close-range strike.

West Ham United: Bywater; Harvey, N'gala, Dailly (Hunt 61), Andrews; Reid, Hines, Ephraim, Stanislas (Bowes 86); Cowley (Sears 83), Jeffrey. Unused subs: Blackmore, Davidson.

Arsenal: Poom; Gilbert (Connolly 46), O'Ceruill, Djourou, Cole; Muamba (Randall 75), Song, Diaby, Larsson; Walcott (Stokes 18), Bendtner. Unused subs: Mannone, Traore.

Referee: J. Hopkins