New Delhi: Mexican youngster Carlos Vela came off the bench to lift a young Arsenal side to a 2-0 League Cup victory over 10-man West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium.
The 19-year-old, on his return from ankle injury, had a hand in both goals. His shot set up Sanchez Watt for the opener after 68 minutes, and he added a tap-in himself eight minutes later to seal the Gunners’ passage through to the fourth round.
West Brom had a positive start to the match but had the wind taken out of their sails after Jerome Thomas was sent off after 37 minutes for a needless confrontation with Jack Wilshere.
After Thomas offered to shake Wilshere’s hand, the 17-year-old refused, drawing an angry reaction from Thomas, who slapped him instead, leaving match referee Lee Mason no alternative but to send him to an early shower.
Down to 10 men, Roberto Di Matteo’s men were always going to struggle to hold on to a young Arsenal team gaining in confidence as the match wore on.
Arsene Wenger is again blooding his youngsters in the League Cup - the team sent out on this occasion against the Baggies had an average age of just over 20. One exception was former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre, who captained the side. Alongside him was experienced defender Philippe Senderos – still only 24 – starting for the first time in 16 months after spending last season on loan at AC Milan.
Watt and French teenager Gilles Sunu led Arsenal’s attack, showing plenty of flair and pace, while there was considerable quality in midfield with Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey pulling the strings.
Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny made his full Arsenal debut and was kept busy in the first half, Robert Koren’s drive from long distance testing him at full stretch after 15 minutes. Koren was one of the shining lights in West Brom's failed Premier League campaign last term, and was showing his quality again in a classy display.
Watt then came within inches of scoring for the Gunners when he stabbed Wilshere's cutback goalwards, only for the ball to bounce off the inside of the post and into Dean Kiely's grateful arms.
Baggies midfielder Simon Cox then tested Szczesny with a low drive, before the Pole produced yet another fine save to deny Koren again.
The young Arsenal side were struggling to contain the Championship table-toppers, with Kerrea Gilbert forced to scramble the ball off the line after a corner caused confusion in the six-yard box.
However, Thomas’ sending-off late in the first half halted the Baggies’ momentum and handed the Gunners the ascendancy.