Arsenal dispatched of a Singapore Select XI with a comprehensive 4-0 victory in their opening pre-season fixture today, with a hat-trick from Chuba Akpom helping Arsene Wenger’s side to secure their place in the final of the Premier League Asia Trophy, where they’ll face Everton.
The other Arsenal goalscorer was another academy graduate, with Jack Wilshere scoring a penalty, whilst by the end of proceedings there was a very youthful Gunners line-up on show and at one stage eight of the outfield players were individuals who had previously represented the club at U18 level.
Wenger named a strong starting line-up, but there were still spaces for a couple of youngsters, with Akpom and Alex Iwobi both involved from the offset. As the game progressed, Dan Crowley, Chris Willock, Gedion Zelalem and, eventually, Jon Toral, were all introduced as Arsenal enjoyed a comfortable success in Asia.
Akpom will get the majority of the headlines, and deservedly so. The 2014/15 campaign ended in frustrating fashion for the forward as he struggled to impose himself during a loan spell with Nottingham Forest, but he was on top form here and, despite receiving limited service for most of the first-half, he opened the scoring on the half hour mark with a neat finish following good work from wingers Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Iwobi.
Iwobi squandered a couple of goalscoring opportunities himself later in the game, but, overall, the Hale End product’s maiden first-team outing was a successful one as he displayed several good touches and was involved in some intricate build-up play.
Arsenal initially struggled to create many chances, perhaps as a consequence of them fielding two defensive-midfielders in Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin, but once Akpom put them ahead the outcome was never in doubt.
Wilshere doubled Arsenal’s advantage from the penalty spot after Mathieu Debuchy, playing his first game since the FA Cup Semi-Final, was brought down in the area. Arsenal’s third was also a penalty, with Akpom this time converting after a foul on Toral.
The fourth and final goal came after Zelalem did well to find the marauding Hector Bellerin, who delivered a precise cross for Akpom to head home and complete his hat-trick. Arsenal don’t have too many senior bonafide centre-forwards on their books at the moment and the 19-year-old will be hoping that this performance will preclude further first-team involvement this campaign.
As for the other youngsters, Crowley seemed immediately at home in a first-team environment and, as is his wont, played some effective passes. Willock, stationed on the right flank, showed maturity, whilst Zelalem and Toral also played an important part in the victory.
Given the standard of today’s opposition it is important not to make too many significant conclusions from the game, but there were numerous positives to take from proceedings, not least the showing of Akpom.
Arsenal will play Everton in the Final of the competition at the weekend, with Wenger likely to call upon several of the established internationals who were left out today. It will be up to the youngsters who featured to continue to impress in training over the coming days as they seek to remain with the squad for the Emirates Cup at the end of this month.
Arsenal: Martinez (Szczesny, 46); Debuchy (Bellerin, 72), Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal; Flamini (C. Willock, 64), Coquelin; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Zelalem, 64), Wilshere (Crowley, 64), Iwobi (Toral, 72); Akpom.