By Nik Brumsack at The Hawthorns
Arsenal Under-21s battled back from two goals down to earn a point at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday afternoon.
After Kemar Roofe and Adil Nabi had given the hosts a two goal-lead, a second-half Wesley Atkinson own goal and Chuba Akpom's header, plus Lukasz Fabianski’s penalty save, rescued a draw for Steve Gatting’s side.
It was a comeback that would have pleased the youth coach in what was a testing afternoon against a West Brom side that Arsenal had been beaten by twice in their prior three meetings this season.
Arsenal had shown more than the occasional glimpse of quality in their first four games of the elite group stage but came into this game still without having registered a win.
Gatting made five changes to the team that had been beaten at Tottenham Hotspur last time out.
Daniel Boateng and Elton Monteiro returned at the back, while Jordan Wynter made his first start of the season in midfield, alongside Nico Yennaris.
Nigel Neita was recalled on the wing, with Zak Ansah on the opposite side and Akpom again occupying the lone striker’s role.
The game began quietly. Both sides, while keeping the ball well in midfield, were struggling to mount a serious attack once they got into the final third.
In fact ,it took 13 minutes for Arsenal to shoot at goal.
Yennaris’ lofted pass set Akpom away and the striker was unfortunate to see his fierce shot deflected off target.
The in-form Akpom was proving a thorn in the side of the hosts’ defence. He held the ball up well, was typically physical in his approach and worked hard.
And it was a collaboration of all three that came close to him breaking the deadlock after 25 minutes.
After chasing a long ball, the striker outmuscled Wesley Atkinson before firing a venomous drive just over the bar.
Arsenal had defended solidly, and when West Brom did mount an attack on goal, Ignasi Miquel matched Roofe stride for stride before nicking the ball away.
But five minutes later, Roofe found space in the Arsenal box, and this time, he was not to be denied.
James Hurst flashed in a cross from the right that the winger controlled just outside the six-yard box before volleying clinically past Fabianski.
And at the start of the second period, things got worse.
Nabi beat Miquel to the ball 30 yards from goal before driving into the area. The forward cut inside Monteiro before squeezing a shot past Fabianski and in.
It was harsh on Gatting’s side. There had been little between the teams but the visitors had been punished for not marking tightly enough.
Still, they continued to battle and reduced the arrears just after the hour.
Akpom chested down a long pass before finding Yennaris. The midfielder slipped the ball into Neita’s path and from just inside the area, the 19-year-old opened his body up to curl in a low shot that was deflected off Atkinson and past Boaz Myhill in the West Brom goal.
That goal brought the hosts into action and they were given the perfect opportunity to restore their two-goal cushion just two minutes later.
Nabi received the ball in the penalty area before going down under Monteiro’s challenge. The referee pointed to the spot but Fabinski guessed right to keep out Romaine Sawyers’ poorly-taken effort.
And the striker was made to pay midway through the second period.
Martin Angha swung in an inviting right-footed cross from the left. The ball was inch-perfect for Akpom, who rose highest to plant a header into the bottom corner and score for the sixth time in just four appearances.
The game was becoming increasingly stretched with both sides pouring forward in attempt to win the game.
Gatting introduced Serge Gnabry and Hector Bellerin and it was the latter who came closest to giving Arsenal the three points, driving at the hosts’ backline before curling a left-footed effort against the post.
- Yennaris 84
- Ansah 72
- Akpom 72 Goal!
- Bellerin 84
- Olsson 72
- Gnabry 72
West Brom U23
- Hurst 53
- Wesley Atkinson Goal!
- Callum Jones
- Tom Smart
- Aaron Birch
- Roofe Goal!
- Nabi Goal!
- Shane Lewis
- Jordan Francis 53
- Rees Wedderburn
- Kyle Howkins
- Samir Nabi