Capital One Cup
West Bromwich Albion 1 Arsenal 1 (a.e.t., Arsenal won 4-3 on penalties)
It may have taken extra-time and penalties following a rather stale 90 minutes, but an Arsenal side containing a mix of youth and experience eventually prevailed past West Bromwich Albion on penalties this evening to seal a place in the Fourth Round of the Capital One Cup, where they will face Chelsea at Emirates Stadium.
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After a first-half containing few incidents of note, the game was lit up by Thomas Eisfeld’s first competitive goal on 61 minutes, but West Brom equalised through a youngster of their own in Saido Berahino to force extra-time. Penalties eventually followed and, despite Serge Gnabry missing, West Brom squandered two spot-kicks in succession, allowing Nacho Monreal to score the decisive penalty following a long evening.
The game itself will not be remembered too fondly, but, over the course of the evening, Arsene Wenger handed debuts to three youngsters in Isaac Hayden, Kristoffer Olsson and Hector Bellerin, whilst Chuba Akpom also emerged off the bench and made a positive impression. Although he did not come on, there was a maiden call-up too for 17 year old Alex Iwobi.
Hayden started the game and was largely impressive, with the England youth international retaining the ball well, although he was perhaps fortunate to only receive a yellow card for a rash challenge on Youssouf Mulumbu in the first-half.
Olsson, meanwhile, scored his penalty kick, but otherwise did not have too much of an impact after coming on late in normal time, whilst Bellerin was introduced once extra-time got underway, with the young Spaniard rather surprisingly deployed in central-midfield.
Despite the presence of several youngsters in midfield especially, there was some experience in this side, with Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen and Monreal all involved from the offset. At the other end of the field Nicklas Bendtner was making his first Arsenal appearance for two years and, although the Danish striker claimed an assist for Eisfeld’s well-struck effort, he really should have scored when presented with an opportunity of his own late on.
Instead he laboured in possession to add to an evening of frustration when wingers Serge Gnabry and Ryo, despite showing glimpses of their undoubted potential, also failed to make a sustained impression.
Carl Jenkinson was largely impressive at right-back, but Arsenal survived several scares late on, particularly when West Brom substitute Morgan Amalfitano struck the crossbar with a deft effort. Amalfitano, along with Craig Dawson, would go on to miss his penalty, with Akpom and Olsson both converting theirs.
Akpom showed some of his promise in the closing stages with some direct runs at the opposition defence, but, as had been the case all evening, Arsenal couldn’t find the breakthrough in open play.
Penalties proved the difference, however, and despite the ever-increasing amount of injuries currently afflicting the first-team squad, tonight’s encounter can be seen as a very positive learning experience for Arsenal’s youngsters.
Arsenal: Fabianski; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal; Arteta (Bellerin 95), Hayden (Olsson 84); Gnabry, Eisfeld (Akpom 82), Ryo; Bendtner. Not used: Viviano, Flamini, Park, Iwobi.