By Rob Kelly at The Hawthorns
After 14 long, difficult months, Jack is back.
There was to be no goal or indeed an Arsenal win to enjoy, but Jack Wilshere will just be thrilled to taste action once more.
The 20-year-old was lively and one beautiful reverse pass to set up a chance for Nico Yennaris reminded everyone of his exceptional ability.
There was more positive news with Emmanuel Frimpong continuing his own comeback. The all-action midfielder made a short cameo in the Capital One Cup victory against Coventry, and had 70 minutes more here.
The Ghana-born midfielder showed all his trademark energy and heart, and can be satisfied with his afternoon’s work.
Terry Burton’s men may have been beaten by Yassine El Ghanassy’s 40th minute strike, but the good news regarding Wilshere and Frimpong outweighs any disappointment over the result.
Aside from the returns of Wilshere and Frimpong, Josh Rees made his first start of the season while Ignasi Miquel, Nico Yennaris and Damian Martinez featured after their Capital Cup One exploits against Coventry last week.
Indeed, manager Terry Burton only retained the services of four of the side that were beaten 4-1 at West Ham last time out as he shuffled his pack for this trip to the Black Country.
Arsenal started brightly, and within two minutes Wilshere was running straight at the West Brom defence before the move eventually broke down. It was an encouraging sight to see the 20-year-old in full flow once more.
Soon afterwards Kyle Ebecilio cut in from the left flank and played a one-two with Nigel Neita before unleashing a curling effort from 20 yards that Shane Lewis could only tip over the bar.
Slowly but surely the hosts began to settle, with El Ghanassy and Romaine Sawyers particularly dangerous in attack. But when the next big opportunity came, it stemmed straight from the boot of the man of the moment, Wilshere.
The 20-year-old had been neat and tidy in the opening stages, but in the 17th minute he really sprang to life as he charged towards the West Brom box and slipped a disguised reverse pass through to Yennaris. The young midfielder had a clear sight on goal in the area, but saw his shot saved before Rees’ follow-up was cleared off the line.
With Wilshere growing in confidence and authority, Arsenal remained on the front foot and the England international nearly sent Neita through on goal, but his lofted pass just had too much purchase on it.
But West Brom remained a danger and Mantom tested Martinez with a firm strike from 20 yards in the 22nd minute, and was again denied by the goalkeeper soon afterwards after being played through by Sawyers.
It was a finely-poised affair, but the hosts took control just before half time when El Ghanassy was sent clean through, and he kept his cool to slot past the onrushing Martinez.
The second half saw El Ghanassy pick up from where he left off as he escaped down the left, before Hector Bellerin’s last-ditch tackle denied him in the area. From the resulting corner, Donervorn Daniels should have doubled West Brom’s lead, but his free header clipped the bar and went over.
Wilshere eventually made way for Kristoffer Olsson in the 63rd minute, but should be pleased with his first run-out in 14 months. He may not have quite hit the heights, but after so long on the sidelines it would be foolish to expect any more.
Arsenal were in charge for much of the second half, but found it difficult to break down a stubborn West Brom rearguard. Chances were at a premium, but in the 85th minute substitute Serge Gnabry set up Thomas Eisfeld, the German’s curling effort flying over.
Gnabry then hit the stantion with a superb effort in the closing moments, and seconds later the final whistle blew.
- Martinez Yellow Card
- Wilshere 63
- Frimpong 70
- Ebecilio Yellow Card
- Neita 74
- Eisfeld 74
- Gnabry 70
- Olsson 63
West Brom U21
- Brown 77
- Ghanassy 81 Goal!
- O'Sullivan Yellow Card
- Birch 77
- Jones 81