By Rob Kelly at London Colney
Chuba Akpom struck a hat-trick as Arsenal Under-21s claimed their first league win of 2014 by beating West Ham 5-3 at London Colney on Monday.
The England youth international was in fine form for the Gunners all afternoon, and opened the scoring after eight minutes.
The visitors struck back through Jordan Brown, before Kris Olsson’s fine effort restored the lead for Steve Gatting’s side.
Brown netted an equaliser straight after half-time for West Ham, before Akpom claimed his second from the spot after being hauled down in the area.
There was a further twist when Dan Potts made it 3-3 with an improvised finish for the Hammers, but Arsenal were not to be denied and substitute Zak Ansah slotted in a fourth from the edge of the area.
This time the Gunners were able to hold their lead, and with six minutes remaining they made sure of the three points when Akpom completed his hat-trick.
SETTING THE SCENE
Gatting made seven changes to the side that had been beaten 3-1 by Reading last time out in the semi-finals of the Under-21 Premier League Cup.
Deyan Iliev returned in goal, with Leander Siemann replacing Hector Bellerin at right back, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill in for Tafari Moore at left back and Olsson stepping into midfield, where he was joined by Gedion Zelalem. The injured Ryo Miyaichi was replaced by Alex Iwobi and Akpom spearheaded the attack.
Chasing their first league win since November 12, Arsenal made a strong start and their energy and desire were rewarded in the eighth minute when Akpom slotted in the opener after good work from Ormonde-Ottewill.
But the visitors responded well and pressed Gatting’s side high up the pitch, closing down space and trying to force a mistake. Eventually they made the breakthrough, with Brown winning the ball on the edge of the area and firing a low shot beyond Iliev.
Minutes later Brown rose highest to meet a corner from the left and his header rattled off the inside of the far post and bounced clear to safety.
But the Gunners, led by the impressive Akpom, soon moved on to the front foot again and re-established their lead on the half-hour mark when Olsson fired a low drive into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Iwobi and Akpom’s pace and power were causing the visitors problems and both created chances for themselves by driving through the midfield and into the box, but both were denied before half-time.
The visitors were back on level terms within two minutes of the restart as the dangerous Brown scored, but Arsenal’s response was immediate.
A little over 60 seconds had elapsed when Toral slipped a delightful ball through for Akpom, who was dragged down by Dan Potts in the area. The striker took the spot kick himself and made no mistake, sending Gines Guzman the wrong way.
The increasingly influential Thomas Eisfeld twice went close as he hit a fierce shot that Guzman did well to hold, before a later first-time effort was also taken by the keeper.
Arsenal continued to press as they went in search of the fourth goal that their spritely performance merited, but were pegged back once again in the 79th minute when Potts hooked the ball past Iliev from 10 yards out.
But there was yet more drama as, with nine minutes remaining, Ansah slotted home for Arsenal in his first game back after injury. Moments later, Akpom fired in from a tight angle to complete his hat-trick and seal a thrilling victory for Gatting’s side.
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