By Max Jones at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal Under-21s maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a convincing 4-2 win against West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium on Thursday.
Abou Diaby returned from injury to play alongside Joel Campbell, Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin in a strong team, and their experience showed as they dominated the game in front of 1,469 fans.
Dan Crowley opened the scoring from a sweetly-struck free-kick inside three minutes before Chuba Akpom followed up from close range to double the young Gunners' lead. Akpom then grabbed a second after half-time, heading home from Bellerin's cross before sealing his hat-trick seven minutes later.
West Brom grabbed two consolation goals in the last 10 minutes but Arsenal's firepower proved too strong and they held firm to secure their second win of the season.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made six changes to the side that was held to a 1-1 draw by Derby County last Thursday. Deyan Iliev replaced Matt Macey in goal while Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill recovered his starting berth.
Glen Kamara, Gedion Zelalem, Kris Olsson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles dropped to the bench in favour of the first-team players.
The young Gunners were still unbeaten from their opening two games but their solid record before the game was matched by the Baggies, who beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 in their only match so far.
Arsenal had never lost at Emirates Stadium and beat West Brom 1-0 when the two sides met at the venue last season.
It took Arsenal all of three minutes to respond to Gatting's calls for more clinical finishing. West Brom failed to cope with the home side's sharp start and gave away a free-kick just outside the box, allowing Crowley to gratefully step up and drive into the roof of Jack Rose's net.
And they nearly doubled their lead inside the opening 10 minutes. Campbell was desperate to impress after a successful World Cup and cut inside Wesley Atkinson before curling just wide.
In fact, the youngsters appeared to be boosted by the collection of first-team players. Coquelin picked up possession and sprayed around passes with ease, while Diaby fired a deflected shot just over in the 18th minute.
But the younger crop were determined not to be outshone by their older peers and Crowley tested Rose again with a low drive before Akpom forced the goalkeeper into another smart save a minute later.
And the two were heavily involved in Arsenal's second on the 30-minute mark. Crowley swung his free-kick to Semi Ajayi, whose powerful strike was parried away spectacularly by Rose, but Akpom was lurking to tap-in his second of the season.
Iliev was tested twice by the Baggies in the opening period, stopping Adil Nabi's efforts well, but the Gunners looked strong and focused at the back, having learnt from their mistake against Derby.
Diaby was withdrawn at the break, but Arsenal's youngsters kept playing at the tempo he had dictated in the first half. Isaac Hayden forced Rose into another good save with a thunderous strike from 25 yards before Campbell slalomed past two and fired wide.
West Brom looked reinvigorated after the interval, though, and got in behind the Gunners' back four for the first time on the hour mark. Atkinson burst past Ormonde-Ottewill and centred to Kemar Roofe, whose deflected shot flew wide.
But the Baggies did not threaten for long as Gatting's side broke in typical rapid fashion through Bellerin. The Spanish right-back swung in an inch-perfect delivery and Akpom climbed high to head home his second of a evening.
And he was not finished there. The striker wrapped up his hat-trick in emphatic style, smashing Campbell's lobbed pass through Rose's legs seven minutes later.
Gatting's side could not preserve their clean sheet, though. Kyle Howkins powered Rees Wedderburn's corner past Iliev as Arsenal switched off at the set-piece, before Kemar Roofe lobbed the goalkeeper with the last kick of the game.
- Diaby 46
- Crowley 77 Goal!
- Akpom Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Maitland-Niles 77
- Zelalem 46
West Bromwich Albion U21
- Howkins Goal!
- Roofe Goal!
- Barrow 63
- Wedderburn 63