Serge Gnabry’s superb volley gave Arsenal Under-21s a well-earned win over West Brom at Emirates Stadium to continue their promising start to the season.
The young Gunners now have seven points from a possible nine after another energetic and mature display.
Steve Gatting fielded a strong team for the first of two under-21 games in N5 this season. He made five changes from the side that comprehensively beat Blackburn almost two weeks ago. Gnabry, Emmanuel Frimpong and Ryo came into the side and Matthew Macey was given a chance in goal as Deyan Iliev dropped to the bench.
Arsenal’s youngsters put in an impressive performance against Blackburn last time out and they started this game in similar fashion in front of 2,651 spectators, a number that most of the players wouldn’t have experienced in their careers to date.
It was the Gunners who settled the quickest and soon pinned the Baggies back into their own half.
In the fourth minute the hosts missed a glorious chance to take an early lead. Gnabry picked the ball up midway in the visitors’ half and threaded a delightful ball to Ryo who rounded Jack Rose but shot wide with the goal gaping.
Nine minutes later Gnabry almost steered a shot inside the far post after wriggling past two defenders. The visitors struggled to keep up with Gatting’s side in the opening quarter of the game.
However, their rhythm was abruptly bought to a halt after Bradley Garmston went down under an innocuous challenge that required treatment and the defender eventually had to be stretchered off.
Arsenal deservedly took the lead in the 34th minute with a magnificent goal. Isaac Hayden lofted an inch-perfect pass towards Gnabry and, with plenty still to do, the forward smashed a first-time volley into the top corner.
West Brom created very little in the opening half as Gatting’s side continued to control possession and look more threatening. Gnabry sent a swerving shot wide in the 44th minute before Chuba Akpom saw a drive go straight at Rose in first-half stoppage time.
The young Gunners began the second half with the same intensity as they began the first, but it was the West Midlanders who created their first real opportunity of the game. Aaron Birch’s shot was deflected into the path of Morgan Ferrier but Macey was quickly off his line to make an excellent block.
The influential Gnabry was replaced just after the hour by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and the substitute almost made an immediate impact when he was released by Kris Olsson down the right channel before hitting a tame shot straight into the hands of Rose.
In the 74th minute Arsenal’s tireless display was almost undone when Kemar Roofe slotted past Macey after latching onto a deflected shot, but the winger was adjudged to be offside.
Substitute Alex Jones missed a gilt-edged chance to equalise for the visitors with just five minutes remaining when he headed wide from six yards out.
Arsenal defended manfully in what was a much more even second half and held on for a deserved victory - capped by Gnabry's exquisite winner.