U21 Premier League Cup
Norwich City 0 Arsenal 1 (Afobe 45)
Benik Afobe scored a superb goal away to Norwich City this evening to send Arsenal into the Last 16 of the inaugural U21 Premier League Cup. The 20 year old striker, making just his second competitive appearance since recovering from a lengthy injury lay-off, managed to weave his way through the Norwich defence before finding the net with a precise finish on the stroke of half-time.
Afobe would only last 53 minutes after suffering a hamstring injury early in the second half, but the striker made his presence felt this evening and, on this showing, his belated debut for the first-team should not be too far away so long as he steers clear of further injury problems.
Norwich named the vaunted Murphy twins, Josh and Jacob, in their starting line-up, but Arsenal, despite the fact that they were missing Serge Gnabry and Thomas Eisfeld, were able to call upon three members of the first-team squad in Emmanuel Frimpong, Ryo and Gedion Zelalem, with the latter returning from international duty. Stefan O’Connor, meanwhile, replaced Julio Pleguezuelo at centre-back, whilst the presence of Hector Bellerin, Kristoffer Olsson and Chuba Akpom on the bench served to underline the club’s strength in depth at this level at present.
subs: Akpom (for Afobe, 53), Bellerin (for Ryo, 56). Not used: Olsson, Boateng, Huddart.
Norwich started the brighter of the two sides, with Josh Murphy drawing a good save from Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Macey, but Ryo, operating on the right flank, gradually became more of a prominent figure in the game, with the Japanese winger directing a fierce shot on target.
Next Zelalem, as is his wont, played an inch-perfect pass into the path of Jon Toral, but the Spaniard, who has been in excellent goalscoring form since his return from injury, could only shoot over.
Norwich threatened intermittently, but much of the attacking intent was coming from Arsenal, with Ryo winning a corner before setting up Afobe, who saw his shot saved. Afobe was played through on goal again shortly afterwards, but Norwich goalkeeper Remi Matthews was equal to the striker’s effort.
Frimpong then forced Matthews into action again with a well-struck effort, but Arsenal always had to be wary of the threat of the Murphy twins, with Nico Yennaris making a vital interception on one occasion.
Arsenal would take the lead before the break, however, and the goal was both orchestrated and scored by Afobe, with the striker beating two defenders with consummate ease before beating Matthews with a superb finish.
Arsenal’s momentum in the early stages of the second-half was disrupted somewhat by Afobe’s enforced withdrawal, with Norwich posing much more of an attacking threat. Macey did well to avert the danger after a mis-understanding with O’Connor almost presented Norwich with a goal, then Rod Young forced Macey into another save.
Macey would be called upon several more times before the game was over, with the goalkeeper denying both Jamar Loza and Young in quick succession, before making a spectacular save to deny Jacob Murphy with seven minutes remaining.
Akpom shot over in haste late on, but it was another striker in Afobe who had ensured Arsenal’s passage into the next round, although Macey’s stellar contribution will not go unnoticed.