By Morgan Lake
A look at the two team sheets at the start said it all. While Arsenal welcomed back Steer, Ogogo and Fonte from on loan, the Gunners also were keeping a wary eye on the upcoming Academy league play-off fixture against Manchester City on Friday, with Luke Ayling and Gilles Sunu on the bench and Eastmond, Coquelin, Frimpong and Cruise didn’t make the trip down to the Midlands. Ayling, praised by Steve Claridge after his Youth Cup display, gave his place in the team to Spanish 16 year old Ignasi Miquel who continued his rapid rise through the youth system in this match. Meanwhile West Brom boasted a line up with the likes of Kiely, Kim, Stech, Hoefkens, Moore and Bednar.
Once again though, the inexperienced Arsenal second string kept with their vastly more experienced opponents in a well fought encounter.
Much like in the Youth Cup game at the Emirates, Arsenal started with real enthusiasm and pace, and after just 30 seconds Sanchez Watt could have put the Gunners in front with a shot after good work from strike partner Fonte. Unfortunately the Englishman’s shot was pushed away by veteran goalkeeper Dean Kiely.
West Brom almost immediately hit back with attacks of their own. First Bartley was forced to block a Baggies attempt on goal before Mannone was called into action for the first time, palming a shot past the post. The dangerous Bednar skipped into the box moments later, zipping a ball across the face of goal with Kyle Bartley forced to rescue his team once again with a great clearance from almost underneath his own crossbar.
The game had become end to end and Arsenal were next to be given an opportunity, and what an opportunity it was too. Great skill from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas followed by a perfect through-ball saw Fran Merida in space driving towards goal. The Spaniard did everything right, waiting for Kiely to go to ground and lifting the ball over him but his shot was over hit and beat the crossbar as well as keeper.
Vito Mannone had quite a few shots to save in this match and wasn’t helped out by his captain Mark Randall when the Englishman, who seemed to have an attitude problem throughout, gifted Kim the ball inside the area. With just the keeper to beat Kim blasted the ball at goal but Mannone matched the shot with a fantastic reaction stop.
This save would prove vital straight away, with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas linking up with Merida once more, sending the Spanish midfielder free once more. This time though Fran Merida would get his finish just right with an exquisite chip over the keeper with his weaker right foot.
The half began to peter out after the goal and although Teixeira having adopted a shoot on sight policy tried his luck once more from distance, Mannone comfortably saved to keep Arsenal ahead up until the break. Arsenal could have even extended the lead, when a combination dwelling on the ball near the box and good Arsenal pressure forced a chance, Watt again the recipient of the hard work but the striker couldn’t finish from just inside the box, driving instead straight at Kiely.
HALF TIME: Arsenal 1 – 0 West Brom
Like the first half, Arsenal were the quickest to get up to speed. Jay Emmanuel_Thomas showing more of his incredible talent ghosted past the West Brom defender and put the ball on a plate to the onrushing Arsenal player. Unfortunately though, Fonte smashed his goalbound shot straight at the diving Hoefkens. The shot seemed to hit the West Brom captain’s hand as he went to ground but no penalty was given.
This would cost the Gunners dearly, as not long after the Baggies equalised. Randall gave away posession in a very poor area to do so once more and Miquel had to bail him out and Arsenal cleared. But West Brom reclaimed the ball and Donk played in Moore whose shot was again saved brilliantly by our Italian goalkeeper. However the shot went straight back to a West Brom player, and the onrushing Sawyers made no mistake this time.
After the goal there was a lull in chances but the Baggies clearly had gained an upper hand and kept the majority of posession. Arsenal stood firm and with the Academy game on Friday in mind, Emmanuel-Thomas and Bartley were replaced by Ayling and Sunu to keep the four fresh for the play-off game.
The changes didn’t really have any impact on the game and the game became very scrappy. Bednar was still a threat though, and had a header go just wide from a free kick before cutting inside from the right and unleashing an unstoppable drive which crashed against the bar with Vito Mannone beaten. This was the best effort from the last quarter of the game which was a drab end to what had been a fairly exciting match. a point gained though for the boys in red and white and more importantly, valuable experience gained with the likes of Miquel and Bartley passing a very difficult test in impressive fashion against experienced forwards in Moore and Bednar, players who ripped apart the Championship last season remember. So all in all a good warm up for the upcoming Academy League play off.
FULL TIME: Arsenal 1 – 1 West Brom
Vito Mannone – 8
Abu Ogogo – 6
Kyle Bartley – 7.5
Ignasi Miquel – 7
Rene Steer – 5
Amaury Bischoff – 5
Mark Randall – 4
Fran Merida – 6
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas – 7
Sanchez Watt – 6
Rui Fonte – 6.5
Ayling – 6
Sunu – 6