Barclays U21 Premier League- Elite Group
Arsenal 1 (Diaby) West Brom 1
Arsenal U21s began their Elite Group campaign with a hard-fought draw against West Bromwich Albion at London Colney this afternoon. West Brom took the lead early on, but Andre Santos levelled for a largely experienced Arsenal outfit, for whom Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off late on.
Coach Terry Burton called upon an extremely strong side, with seven members of the first-team squad making the starting line-up. Abou Diaby and Santos made their first appearances following spells on the sidelines, whilst Frimpong, Vito Mannone, Carl Jenkinson, Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were also called upon. Conor Henderson, meanwhile, marked his return from a frustrating loan spell at Coventry City by making the bench.
subs: C-Cook, Monteiro, Bihmoutine, Henderson (for Diaby, 67), Ansah (for Chamerlain, 70).
West Brom, in contrast, named a rather inexperienced side, with midfielder Scott Allan their most prominent player, and it was no surprise that Arsenal started the brightest of the two sides, with Jenkinson seeing a shot pushed away by Luke Daniels.
Coquelin then tried his luck from distance, before Chuba Akpom, one of the few players in the side without first-team experience, was flagged for offside having been played through by Jenkinson.
Despite the Arsenal pressure, however, it was the visitors who struck the first notable blow, with Mannone left stranded when the alert Adil Nabi headed home a well-delivered free-kick.
Frimpong hit a deflected effort on goal as some means of retaliation, but Mannone had to react quickly at the other end to prevent Romaine Sawyers from doubling West Brom’s advantage, with the Italian making an impressive stop at the feet of the striker.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was a lively presence throughout the first-half, then stung the palms of Daniels with a typically ferocious shot from the edge of the area, before Akpom and Frimpong both came close to restoring parity.
The equaliser finally came on the stroke of half-time as Diaby, impressive on his return, threaded the ball through to Santos, after it was allowed to run by Frimpong, and the Brazilian slotted past Daniels to make it 1-1.
Arsenal, buoyed by their goal, began the second period in the ascendancy, with Akpom seeing a header saved following a precise delivery from Oxlade-Chamberlain. Shortly afterwards, Martin Angha saw a shot cleared off the line by the alert Sawyers.
Santos then struck a free-kick wide from distance, before Henderson entered the fray in place of Diaby. Henderson nearly made an instant impact, but Daniels just about managed to hold his swerving effort.
Just when it looked as if an Arsenal winner was somewhat inevitable, Nabi tested Mannone twice in quick succession, before Frimpong reduced Arsenal’s chances of a late winner by being sent off for a rash challenge having already picked up a yellow card.
That proved to be the last meaningful action of an entertaining game, and one which Arsene Wenger will no doubt be pleased with having seen several members of his squad, Diaby especially, come through unscathed.
Arsenal’s next game is away to Southampton later this month.