Barclays Asia Trophy 2015

Arsenal youngster Chuba Akpom the name on many lips after hat-trick at Sports Hub

Arsenal's Chuba Akpom (left), watched by Singapore's Madhu Mohana, taking a shot at goal.
Arsenal's Chuba Akpom (left), watched by Singapore's Madhu Mohana, taking a shot at goal.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Arsenal's Jon Toral (left) tripping over Singapore Selection goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, resulting in a penalty.
Arsenal's Jon Toral (left) tripping over Singapore Selection goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, resulting in a penalty.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Teen steals the thunder from Arsenal's stars as he scores hat-trick in 4-0 win over hosts

Singapore Select XI 0 Arsenal 4

Arsenal fans turned up in droves at the National Stadium to watch star names like Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in action but by the end of the Gunners' 4-0 win over the Singapore Selection, it was the melodious name of Chuba Akpom on the lips of the supporters.

There were goals, there was entertainment and the bulk of it was provided by the 19-year-old, who took home the match ball after scoring a hat-trick in the Barclays Asia Trophy yesterday.

But while he is still not a household name in Singapore, the Gunners knew they had an unpolished gem in their hands when they extended the contract of their academy graduate until 2019 in February.

Right foot, penalty and a pin-point header, the English teenager, who has four English Premier League (EPL) appearances so far, certainly impressed the 29,867 fans last night.

At the post-match press conference, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger called Akpom a "big talent" and said he would not be sending the forward for a fourth loan spell this season after previous stints with lower division clubs Brentford, Coventry City and Nottingham Forest.

(Above) Chuba Akpom (left), watched by Madhu Mohana, takes a shot at goal. The 19-year-old scored a hat-trick. (Left) Arsenal's Jon Toral (left) trips over Singapore Selection goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, resulting in a penalty. ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI

The Frenchman said: "I plan to keep him here. (How much a role he plays) that's down to his performance and attitude. (The hat-trick) is an encouragement... he's a young player, and it can lift his confidence.

"Let's not forget it's a friendly. He's a good talent but he has to work and show up in the big games."

Akpom played the full 90 minutes and troubled the Singapore Selection's defence with his pace, strength and trickery.

The early signs were encouraging for the home side though.

Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who pulled off 18 saves in a 0-0 draw against Japan in a World Cup qualifying match last month, predicted a busy night against the Gunners and he was right.

The shot-stopper had to make two important saves in the 15th minute, first from Alex Iwobi and then a rasping shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain, to keep his side level.

The Gunners eventually opened the scoring after 30 minutes. Akpom fired home from close range after centre-back Baihakki Khaizan failed to clear an Iwobi cross.

But V. Sundramoorthy's men frustrated the Gunners with their organisation and earned praise from Wenger, who said: "I don't know what they ate for lunch, but they were absolutely electric. They were technically very good and played at high pace. They couldn't create much but it was difficult to get the ball off them."

His words had a certain irony as many of Sundram's men are fasting because of Ramadan and were sapped of energy after the break, which led to the Gunners netting late goals through Wilshere's 60th-minute penalty and another spot-kick from Akpom in the 76th minute. The teenager completed his hat-trick with a header three minutes later.

The Singapore Selection coach said: "Unfortunately most of the boys are fasting. If the game wasn't played during fasting month, we could have played like we did in the first half."

He wants his men to produce another disciplined performance when they meet Stoke on Saturday in the third-place match.

He said: "We will go out there and play the same game - keep the ball and penetrate. Get the boys organised and work towards the physical game."

Arsenal's big win sets up a clash with Everton in the final on Saturday and Wenger promised the big names will be on show after leaving out first-teamers Mesut Oezil, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey last night.

The manager revealed that all of his big guns will play against the Toffees as he aims to lift some silverware before the EPL campaign starts next month. Wenger said: "I left out nine players today. They will be involved on Saturday."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2015, with the headline 'AKPOM LIGHTS UP THE HUB'. Print Edition | Subscribe