By Max Jones at Emirates Stadium
Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby played their first competitive game of 2015 as they helped Arsenal Under-21s beat Stoke City 4-1 at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
The England midfielder secured a valuable 90 minutes while Arteta and Diaby were withdrawn as planned after the hour mark on a successful evening for Arsenal.
Ollie Shenton had put Stoke ahead after just eight minutes but Alex Iwobi struck twice before the break to turn the game around.
Stephy Mavididi then added a third after the restart before Iwobi secured his hat-trick as the Gunners eased to a comfortable win in north London.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made eight changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Blackburn Rovers as he fielded an experienced XI.
After the success of last Tuesday’s behind-closed-doors friendly against Brentford, Arteta, Wilshere and Diaby continued their rehabilitation from injury with their first competitive game.
Serge Gnabry and Krystian Bielik also started their first under-21 game since the 2-1 win at Newcastle United, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles was deployed at right back.
Elsewhere, Iliev replaced recent first-team squad member Matt Macey in goal and Iwobi continued to lead the line for Gatting’s side.
Despite Arsenal’s wealth of experience going forward, it was Stoke who broke the deadlock. Iliev spilled Nathan Ricketts-Hopkinson’s low cross and Shenton tapped in from six yards.
But then Gnabry and Diaby took control of the game. First the Germany Under-21 forward forced Daniel Gyollai into a fine reaction save before finding Diaby, who curled just over from the edge of the area.
The Gunners only had to wait another 60 seconds for their equaliser. Iwobi collected just inside Stoke’s half, raced towards the box, shifted onto his left foot and rifled a low strike into the far corner.
The forward had looked lively throughout the first half and soon had his second. Diaby threaded an inch-perfect pass through to Iwobi who took a touch before finishing into the same corner to give Arsenal the lead.
As planned, Arteta and Diaby were withdrawn on the hour mark having dominated proceedings in midfield, and Stoke edged back into the game.
Charlie Ward tested Iliev with a powerful free-kick before Yusuf Coban curled wide and Ricketts-Hopkinson spurned the chance to equalise from four yards.
Stoke were punished for their missed chances when Mavididi - Arteta’s 16-year-old replacement - added Arsenal’s third. Wilshere’s improvised volley was pushed away as far as the striker, who buried into the corner.
Iwobi then wrapped up the Gunners' win in style, racing into the box and delicately chipping over Gyollai to complete his hat-trick.
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