Premier League 2
Arsenal 3 (Dragomir 5, 34, Nketiah 84) West Ham 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Arsenal U23s returned to winning ways in impressive fashion tonight as a brace from Vlad Dragomir and a strike from the clinical Eddie Nketiah secured a 3-0 victory at home to West Ham United.
The young Gunners were especially dominant in the first half and, in truth, their margin of victory could have been even higher, with Nketiah missing a penalty and Dragomir having an opportunity to complete his hat-trick.
Overall, though, this was still a very encouraging display, with Dragomir becoming increasingly influential at this level, while central-midfielders Joe Willock and Josh Dasilva were outstanding.
Arsenal made X changes to the team that was beaten by Swansea City on Monday night, with Matt Macey, Jordi Osei-Tutu, Ben Sheaf, Willock, Dasilva and Nketiah all starting in place of Hugo Keto, Tafari Moore, Tobi Omole, Charlie Gilmour, Aaron Eyoma and Tyreece John-Jules.
Nketiah, Willock, Sheaf and Macey were included despite being part of the squad for the first-team’s Europa League defeat against Cologne last night.
Osei Tutu-Dasilva-Willock-T. Bola
Subs not used: Keto, Gilmour, Amaechi, Eyoma.
Arsenal started a little nervously with Macey squandering possession but West Ham were unable to capitalise.
Soon Arsenal began to seize control of the game and they took the lead with just five minutes gone when Dragomir headed home from a free-kick.
It could have been 2-0 shortly afterwards, with Dragomir heavily involved in proceedings again as he played a clever pass into the path of Nketiah, who was brought down in the area.
Gilmour scored from the spot against Swansea but the midfielder was on the bench tonight so Nketiah stepped up, only to see his effort saved by Nathan Trott.
West Ham tested Macey at the other end but, despite Nketiah’s miss, Arsenal were full of confidence and were determined to add to their lead.
Willock missed an inviting opportunity to score following a slick passing move and then Nketiah had an attempt saved by Trott.
Although West Ham continued to threaten intermittently, it was Arsenal who were dominant and it seemed rather inevitable that Steve Gastting’s side would score again.
They did just that when Willock played a superb long distance pass into the path of Dragomir, who doubled his tally with an astute finish.
Arsenal weren’t satisfied with a 2-0 lead, however, and looked to score again. Nketiah again tested Trott but was still unable to find the net and then he had two further efforts that went over.
West Ham emerged for the second half with renewed determination and Macey had to make another impressive save following a rare mistake from Ben Sheaf.
Dragomir, Dasilva and Willock all tried to score but to no avail and Sheaf then sent a free-kick wide.
For all of their commendable attacking play, Arsenal also deserved credit for being resilient defensively as they managed to limit the threat of Toni Martinez, who has scored eight goals at this level this season.
Eventually Arsenal did get their third, with Nketiah’s perseverance paying off as he finall got the better of Trott after Osei-Tutu’s initial effort was blocked.
Nketiah had another shot saved late on before Dragomir came close to completing his hat-trick but the game was long since over as a contest.
This was certainly one of Arsenal’s best displays of the season so far as they played with dynamism and cohesion and were effective all over the pitch.
Dragomir and Nketiah will certainly hit the headlines for their goalscoring exploits, but Willock and Dasilva also deserve much praise.
Willock produced one of his standout recent performances as he played some superb passes and was constantly seeking to push Arsenal forwards.
Dasilva, meanwhile, seems settled in midfield again after a spell at left wing-back and made excellent use of his strength and technique.
Arsenal are back in Premier League International Cup action next week when they host Reading.