By Joe Brewin at The Hawthorns
Arsenal Reserves suffered their first defeat of the season as West Brom edged this top-of-the-table affair at The Hawthorns.
Sanchez Watt had given the young Gunners the lead early in the first half but goals from Saido Berahino and Zoltan Gera handed the hosts a half-time advantage.
Graham Dorrans added a third just after the break to seal victory for an experienced Baggies side and extend their lead at the top of the Reserve League South.
Several members of the Arsenal squad were using the match as a welcome return from injury with Sebastien Squillaci, Vito Mannone, Craig Eastmond and Rhys Murphy all part of Neil Banfield’s squad for this eagerly-anticipated trip.
Nico Yennaris and Jernade Meade returned to take their places in the full-back positions, while Kyle Ebecilio was handed his first start of the season on the right side of midfield.
West Brom made their intentions clear with the inclusions of stalwarts Roman Bednar, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Dorrans and Gera in the starting line-up.
Ultimately it was this experience that prevailed on a chilly evening in the West Midlands.
Arsenal enjoyed the better of the early exchanges. Their play was fast-paced, composed and slick – but opportunities proved sparse.
It was West Brom who carved out the game’s first meaningful chance when Liam O’Neil nodded a header just over the crossbar.
But, in the 12th minute, Arsenal went ahead. After some fine build-up play in midfield, Oguzhan Ozyakup found Watt’s well-timed run. True to current form the striker buried his effort for his fifth goal of the season.
An excellent goal it was, but West Brom responded well to falling behind. The hosts began to take a foothold in the match and began to take control of possession.
Left-back Joe Mattock was a willing runner down the flank for the majority of the half and the former England Under-21 international’s first ball into the box forced Mannone into a smart stop.
Saido Berahino proved himself to be a thorn in the Arsenal side as the half wore on and the winger should have levelled when he drilled over from inside the penalty area.
There was more danger for Mannone soon after when Bednar headed straight at the Italian - but it wasn’t long before West Brom had their goal.
Sam Mantom’s clever ball through the middle found the tricky Berahino, who made no mistake of slotting the ball home to level the clash.
It was difficult to argue with the equaliser after good spell of possession for the hosts – and they should have made it two immediately afterwards.
Berahino found himself with time and space inside the area once more but his eventual effort was blazed well off target. It was an opportunity that should have at least tested Mannone but it mattered little as West Brom took the lead shortly afterwards.
Bednar robbed Yennaris of possession just inside the Arsenal half and wasted no time in playing Gera through the middle. The Hungarian international finished neatly to punish Banfield’s youngsters on the stroke of half time.
West Brom's 20-minute spell of possession had paid off and Arsenal trailed at the break. Goalscorer Gera was replaced by Kemar Roofe at the interval.
The second period started at a canter but just eight minutes in Banfield’s side found themselves 3-1 down. A vicious Bednar effort cannoned back off the crossbar and Mannone could only parry back into his own area from the resulting cross. Dorrans was the man to react quickest, coolly side-footing into the bottom corner to extend the hosts’ lead.
Dorrans made way for Donervorn Daniels soon after and Arsenal began to find their feet in midfield. The threat of the home side became largely nullified but it was clear that they would not cave in.
It took until the 69th minute for the young Gunners to test Luke Daniels in the West Brom goal when Chuks Aneke forced a smart stop from the 23-year-old. Substitute Martin Angha was next to sting the palms of the young keeper.
Fellow replacement Murphy was forced off just minutes into his Arsenal return to leave Banfield’s youngsters with ten men for the remainder of the match.
The young second string worked tirelessly for a way back into the match and restricted the hosts to speculative efforts, but ultimately a second goal proved elusive against a stubborn West Brom side.
Arsenal's first defeat of the campaign sees them fall further behind the Baggies in the battle for the Reserve League South title. Next on the agenda is a friendly match at Ipswich Town.
- Eastmond 67
- Ozyakup 67
- Ebecilio 61
- Watt Goal!
- Hajrovic 67
- Angha 67
- Murphy 61
West Brom Res
- Gera 46 Goal!
- Dorrans 58 Goal!
- Berahino Goal!
- Bednar 67
- Roofe 46
- Daniels 58