U21 Premier League Division 2
West Bromwich Albion 3 (Fitzwater 18, A. Nabi 61, 66 (pen)) Arsenal 0
Arsenal U21s saw their already slim hopes of securing promotion to the top tier of second-string football dissipate this afternoon as the young Gunners sunk to their fourth defeat in succession away to West Bromwich Albion.
Coach Steve Gatting made just two alterations from the team that lost to Aston Villa on Friday, with Matt Macey replacing Deyan Iliev in goal and Krystian Bielik returning from injury to partner Glen Kamara in the absence of Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Subs: Robinson (for Kamara, 64), Eyoma (for Pleguezuelo, 81). Not used: Iliev, Smith, M. Bola.
Exactly eight months ago an Arsenal U21 side containing players such as Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin, Abou Diaby and Joel Campbell had beaten West Brom 4-2 at Emirates Stadium, but this was a considerably less experienced Gunners’ side and they struggled defensively throughout against the hosts’ intelligent attackers.
Adil Nabi would go on to score two goals in the second half and he provided an early indication of his threat when he darted into the penalty area before shooting just wide.
Arsenal attempted to respond, but they struggled to find fluency in their attacking movements. On one occasion George Dobson, who has established himself as something of a regular in the team in recent weeks, did well to find Kamara, but the midfielder’s cross just eluded the waiting Alex Iwobi.
West Brom, when presented with the opportunity to attack, were much more ruthless in terms of getting attempts on target and, from their next set-piece, they scored, with centre-back Jack Fitzwater heading home from a corner.
Arsenal did at least manage to create a couple of openings of note before the break. Dan Crowley, who scored a memorable free-kick in the reverse fixture between these sides earlier in the season, received the ball from Bielik before shooting over, with Iwobi then marauding forwards down the right flank to find Stephy Mavididi, whose usual clinical nature in front of goal deserted him on this occasion.
West Brom had the final chance of the first-half, with Joe Ward shooting over and The Baggies proceeded to dominate throughout the second period.
The pressure on the Arsenal defence was relentless and, for the most part, they struggled to cope. Adam Campbell forced a good save from Macey, with Nabi shooting wide shortly afterwards.
There was a brief period of respite for Arsenal, with Bielik shooting over, but normal service was soon resumed as Nabi doubled West Brom’s advantage by finishing adroitly after he was located by Campbell’s pass.
Nabi was celebrating again just five minutes later, with his penalty putting West Brom three goals to the good and, in turn, inflicting further misery on the Arsenal defenders, who have conceded nine goals in their last three games.
Nabi was prevented from scoring a hat-trick by an impressive save from Macey, but, although Gedion Zelalem and Crowley both tried their luck for Arsenal in the closing stages, neither could find the net on what was another disappointing day all round.
The defeat was frustrating but the wider repercussions of this and other setbacks will be felt next season when Arsenal’s youngsters will again take their place in the second tier of U21 football, thus depriving them of the opportunity to play against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.