Akpom hat trick powers lethargic Arsenal to Barclays Asia Trophy final
England U20 striker Chuba Akpom grabbed a hat trick as Arsenal defeated the Singapore Select XI 4-0 on Wednesday night to advance to final of the Barclays Asia Trophy at Singapore's National Stadium.
Akpom scored in the 30th, 76th and 79th minutes -- his second goal coming from a penalty -- with Jack Wilshere also netting from the spot in the 60th minute.
The Gunners will play Everton in Saturday's final at the same venue; the Singapore Select XI will face Stoke City in the third-place game.
Here are three thoughts on Arsenal's debut in the biennial Asian tournament, in front of 29,867 fans:
1. Party like it's 1991
The last time Arsenal played in Singapore 24 years ago, they were reigning English champions, in the days of short shorts, just before the Premier League era. George Graham was the Gunners' manager, and their lineup featured the likes of Tony Adams, Paul Merson and Alan Smith. Arsene Wenger was a little-known 41-year-old in charge of the French League side, Monaco.
Their 2015 lineup was shorn of many of the stars that the Singapore fans were hoping to see -- including new goalkeeping recruit Petr Cech, direct from Premier League champions, Chelsea. England internationals Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined captain Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, and Mathieu Debuchy as the biggest names in the starting side.
Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Carzola didn't even make the six-man bench.
Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain saw plenty of the ball as the two midfielders got forward, with veteran Mathieu Flamini sitting in front of a back four of Monreal, Mertesacker, Gabriel and Debuchy.
The Ox was the most impressive of the English pair, getting a couple of shots on target, taking corners and making a jinking run into the box early in the second half.
Just 10 days since they began preseason training, the Gunners looked understandably lethargic -- even in the air-conditioned stadium -- and seemed grateful for the two drinks breaks that came in the middle of both halves.
Starting goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had little to do in the first 45 minutes, but made way for Wojciech Szczesny after half time.
Wenger, who spent two years coaching in Asia with Japan's Nagoya Grampus Eight in the 1990s, seemed relaxed in a red polo shirt on a matching bucket seat in Singapore's slick new stadium.
2. Arsenal's no-name strike force
The news on Arsenal's forwards was bittersweet from Wenger ahead of kickoff. Alexis Sanchez will miss the opening game of the season against West Ham United as he gets extra time to rest after the Copa America, but former Manchester United product Danny Welbeck would be fit for next weekend's Emirates Cup.
Without either player against the Singapore Select XI, Arsenal gave the ever-reliable Olivier Giroud the night off and went for England U20 striker Chuba Akpom, who spent the end of last season on loan at Nottingham Forest.
Also in the starting line-up, playing wide on the left, was 19-year-old Alex Iwobi. The two unheralded teenagers wasted little time in making their mark.
The Nigerian-born Iwobi got into the box in the 14th minute only to have his right-footed shot saved by the feet of Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
Akpom's first goal came on the half hour just as Singapore defender Baihakki Khaizan thought that he had cleared a dangerous Arsenal attack. Akpom was on hand to dispatch a close-range shot past Izwan. He scored his second from the penalty spot in the 76th minute after Izwan had brought down substitute Jon Toral.
He completed his hat trick three minutes later, heading in a cross from Hector Bellerin, another second-half substitute.
Akpom, who has never scored an English league goal in 26 games in all competitions for four different clubs, has pace, is hard working and made some clever runs that had shades of the absent Welbeck.
But, despite three well-taken goals, he didn't do enough to suggest he will see any serious playing time once the Premier League season begins early next month.
3. Great Wall of Singapore
After a miserable few months on the international front which included group phase exits in both the AFF Suzuki Cup and Southeast Asian Games on home soil, Singapore grabbed a stunning 0-0 draw away to a full-strength Japan side in a World Cup qualifier last month.
Goalkeeper Izwan made 18 saves in Saitama to frustrate the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda and did his best to keep Arsenal's fluent attackers at bay.
Izwan made some timely interventions, especially in the first half, with support from central defenders Baihakki and Madhu Mohana, who got the start ahead of Japanese import Kento Fukuda.
It was another brave performance from what was effectively the Singapore national side, bolstered by four foreigners -- only two of whom were in the starting lineup -- to keep the visitors to a single goal for the first hour.
When the experienced spine of Izwan, Baihakki, Safuwan and Khairul Amri were on the field together, the Singaporeans held their own, without never really looking like scoring.
Safuwan, who played six games on loan with Melbourne City this year and scored two goals, again showed that he should push himself at a higher level than the Malaysia Super League with Singapore's LionsXII, as he played in a central midfield role.
Arsenal defender Gabriel got a painful taste of what is becoming one of the strongest long-range shots in the region late in the first half. He was hit by Safuwan where it hurts and needed two minutes to recover, with the help of goalkeeper Martinez.
Having played with ex-Premier League stars Damien Duff and Robert Koren in the A-League, Safuwan certainly doesn't seem overawed by any big occasion.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.