U21 Premier League- Game 3
Arsenal 4 (Crowley 3, Akpom 31, 63, 70) West Bromwich Albion 2 (Howkins 79, Roofe 90)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Arsenal U21s, helped by the selection of several first-team squad players, continued their unbeaten start to the new season against West Bromwich Albion, but it was two of the younger cast members in Dan Crowley and Chuba Akpom who emerged with the most credit from this entertaining game.
Crowley, again deployed on the left wing, gave Steve Gatting’s side the lead with a sublime free-kick, with Akpom then proceeding to further underline his own credentials by scoring a hat-trick. Abou Diaby made his first appearance of the season and completed 45 minutes, whilst there were also run-outs for Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell, with the latter setting up the goal that clinched Akpom’s hat-trick.
There were further changes, too, with Deyan Iliev starting in goal and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill returning at left-back. In fact, such was the strength of Gatting’s side, regulars such as Kristoffer Olsson, Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were only on the bench, whilst Jack Jebb, Alex Iwobi and Glen Kamara didn’t even make the squad. Ignasi Miquel was absent amidst speculation linking him with a permanent move to Norwich City.
subs: Macey, Olsson, Zelalem (for Diaby, 46), Moore, Maitland-Niles (for Crowley, 77).
Arsenal started brightly and they were swiftly rewarded following a quick piece of thinking by Crowley. Akpom was brought down outside the area and Crowley took the free-kick quickly, confidently dispatching the ball into the back of the net.
West Brom seemed a little stunned at conceding so early, but they soon mounted something of a response, with Samir Nabi forcing Iliev into a save.
Crowley was beginning to wreak havoc at the other end, though, with the diminutive midfielder finding Campbell, who sent an audacious lofted effort just wide of the far post.
Arsenal continued to dominate proceedings, with Diaby forcing a corner after his effort was deflected wide. Stefan O’Connor had to be alert at the other end, however, to make a double block to prevent West Brom from equalising.
Arsenal were always dangerous when breaking forwards, but on one occasion Crowley’s effort lacked conviction and instead ended up in the grateful hands of goalkeeper Jack Rose. Campbell then tried his luck without success, but it was soon 2-0 when Akpom finished from close range after Semi Ajayi’s initial effort was repelled.
Iliev still had to make an impressive one-handed save to deny Kemar Roofe, but Arsenal were mostly on top in the opening period.
Diaby, who performed well, was withdrawn at the interval and replaced by Zelalem. West Brom still threatened intermittently, but it was Arsenal who continued to carve out the majority of the chances. Isaac Hayden, deployed as an unorthodox right-winger, did well to work space for himself, but his fierce effort was kept out by Rose.
Ajayi then headed wide from Crowley’s corner as Arsenal looked to seal the win. They did just that in the 63rd minute, with Zelalem sending a sweeping pass into the path of the marauding Hector Bellerin, who crossed for Akpom to head home and make it 3-0.
The fourth, and Akpom’s third, came not long afterwards. Campbell was the creator this time, with the Costa Rican sending a chipped pass into the path of Akpom, who finished well again for his 23rd goal at this level. A loan spell, perhaps after Arsenal’s Capital One Cup endeavours are over, surely beckons.
That looked to be game over, but West Brom, much to their credit, continued to press forwards and were eventually rewarded for their persistence when slack marking allowed Kyle Hawkins to head in. The deficit was reduced further still when Kemar Roofe made it 4-2, much to the delight of the small pocket of West Brom supporters.
It was the 1000 or so Arsenal fans who walked away happiest, however, after witnessing a largely impressive performance. The displays of Crowley and Akpom were the biggest positives, whilst Campbell looked sharp at times and Bellerin attacked well down the right flank. Seven points from three games is not a bad return for Arsenal U21s, whose next assignment is at Villa Park early next month.