West Bromwich cry foul at Arsenal's Jack the lad

Arsenal 2 West Bromwich Albion 0
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The spotlight was on Jack Wilshere, and the 17-year-old responded by attracting the type of controversy that seems to follow his more experienced Arsenal team-mates.

The prodigious teenager was the best player on the park as Arsène Wenger's youthful side put paid to the team that currently tops the Championship table. But his behaviour was criticised by West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo over a clash with Jerome Thomas that resulted in a red card for the visitors' former Gunner.

Big things are expected of Wilshere, and so it was no surprise that he was subjected to some robust challenges. His reputation preceded him, and Thomas, himself twice an FA Youth Cup winner with Arsenal, seemed intent on teaching him a lesson.

The pair clashed on the half hour, when Wilshere was chopped down, and they were at each other again in the 37th minute. Wilshere fell to the ground, Thomas was furious and grabbed the Arsenal midfielder's face. The referee Lee Mason showed no hesitation in correctly sending the West Brom player off.

Di Matteo agreed Thomas deserved to go, but insisted his player had been provoked by an insult from Wilshere. The West Brom manager said: "My player went to shake the Arsenal player's hand and he refused. There was an exchange of words, an insult, and he reacted to what was said. I'm disappointed that Wilshere didn't accept his hand. Jerome wanted to help him get up, actually."

Wenger explained he had heard nothing and, demonstrating a wonderful sense of self-parody, he said: "My eyes are not great, but my ears are even worse."

Wilshere certainly appeared to be targeted by some West Brom midfielders, but despite the close attention he received he was still the most impressive player on display. Yet for all their endeavour, Arsenal laboured to beat the visitors until the introduction early in the second half of Mexican international Carlos Vela, at 20 virtually an elder statesman of Arsenal's Carling Cup campaigns.

Arsenal had struck the post in the first half with Sanchez Watt's mis-hit shot, but the arrival of Vela, who is just back after an ankle injury, decisively swing the tie the home side's way.

West Brom continued to work like Trojans but found it hard to cope with Vela's energetic running, and Arsenal broke through with 68 minutes on the clock. Wilshere's pass found Vela whose shot was parried by Dean Kiely in the West Brom goal, and the 18-year-old Watt was on the spot to score.

Arsenal's place in the fourth round was confirmed 10 minutes later. Substitute Mark Randall's chip hit the visitors' bar, Leon Barnett made a total hash of chesting the ball back to his goalkeeper and Vela nipped in to finish from close range.

The odd men out in Arsenal's side were the experienced centre half pairing of Philippe Senderos and Mikaël Silvestre. Senderos marked his return after a season on loan at Milan with a yellow card for a foul on Simon Cox, who squandered West Brom's best chance when he headed over the bar from six yards.

Wenger was impressed with Wilshere's ability to keep his head in testing circumstances. "Jack was upset, he said he was kicked," Wenger said. "But he did very well. He looked lively, dangerous, in different parts of the game. When it was very tight, he looked to find openings.

"He has something that's very difficult to give to players. No matter how tight the game, he takes people on. There's a lack of experience sometimes in his decision making, but that's understandable for one so young."

Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Szczesny; Gilbert, Senderos, Silvestre, Gibbs; Coquelin (Randall, 58); Sunu (Vela, 58), Ramsey, Wilshere, Traoré (Barazite, 69); Watt. Substitutes not used: Shea, Bartley, Eastmond, Frimpong.

West Bromwich (4-4-2): Kiely; Zuiverloon, Barnett, Olsson (Méïté, 80), Jara; Thomas, Dorrans, Teixeira, Koren; Moore (Woods, 74), Cox (Mulumbu, 61). Substitutes not used: Carson, Bednar, Reid, Martis.

Referee: L Mason (Lancs)