U21 Premier League Cup- Last 16
Fulham 0 Arsenal 1 (Eisfeld 59)
By Jeorge Bird @ Motspur Park
A strong Arsenal U21 side containing the returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and three other senior internationals demonstrated much courage and endeavour to prevail past a dangerous Fulham side in the U21 Premier League Cup this evening.
The victory, which was secured courtesy of yet another goal from the prolific Thomas Eisfeld, propels Arsenal into the Quarter-Finals of the competition, with a home tie against Chelsea the reward for Steve Gatting’s side.
Oxlade-Chamberlain completed the first 45 minutes before being withdrawn in a pre-planned substitution and, although the winger did demonstrate some signs of rustiness in his first game since August, he came close to scoring with a well-struck shot from the edge of the area.
Carl Jenkinson, Emmanuel Frimpong and Ryo, all members of the first-team squad, also featured, but most of the star performers for Arsenal were under-21 regulars, with defenders Semi Ajayi, Isaac Hayden and Nico Yennaris, the latter operating in the unfamiliar position of left-back, all turning in commendable performances.
Fulham were dangerous throughout the evening, with Muamer Tankovic and Ange-Freddy Plumain causing numerous problems for the Arsenal backline, but goalkeeper Matthew Macey was alert to clear the danger on each occasion.
subs: Toral (for Oxlade-Chamberlain 45), Kamara (for Frimpong, 86). Not used: Crowley, Ormonde-Ottewill, Iliev.
Macey was forced into an intervention early on, with the former Bristol Rovers goalkeeper doing well to claim a dangerous cross, with the hosts enjoying the better of the opening stages at their impressive Motspur Park facilities.
Arsenal’s first moment of attacking menace inevitably involved Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the England international could only direct an audacious lobbed effort over the target after he was played through by Benik Afobe.
Frimpong, who seemed to be lacking sharpness having not featured at any level recently, then directed an effort well wide and just moments later Afobe couldn’t quite connect with a fizzing cross when well positioned in front of goal.
Tankovic was always a threat on the counter-attack for Fulham, but Arsenal were beginning to assert themselves on proceedings, with Oxlade-Chamberlain directing a well-taken free-kick towards goal only for the impressive Jesse Joronen to tip the ball over his crossbar.
Arsenal then carved out a succession of chances in quick succession, with Frimpong finding Afobe, whose shot lacked conviction before Oxlade-Chamberlain’s angled drive was palmed away swiftly by Joronen, with Eisfeld failing to convert the re-bound.
Fulham piled the pressure on the Arsenal goal in the closing stages of the opening period, but the Gunners’ defence, marshalled expertly by Ajayi and Hayden, was always alert to the danger.
Jon Toral then replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain at the start of the second-half, but it was Fulham who were the most dangerous following the resumption of play, with the quicksilver Plumain causing much consternation for Jenkinson with his searing runs down the left flank.
Macey made two impressive saves in a short period of time and Arsenal were living dangerously for a while, with Ajayi and Hayden frequently called upon to make all manner of vital blocks and interceptions.
Their resilience eventually reaped a tangible reward, with Eisfeld powering a shot past Joronen after good work from Yennaris down the left wing resulted in a succession of chances, with Eisfleld, as he so often does, finding the back of the net with the minimum of fuss.
Arsenal sought to double their advantage immediately and, if truth be told, they really should have done better in the direct aftermath of the goal, with Jenkinson shooting horribly wide and Frimpong, who had a spell on loan at Fulham last season, losing his composure when in front of goal.
Yennaris, demonstrating much ingenuity and evidently eager to impress following his disappointing loan spell with Bournemouth, then found the net with a seemingly legitimate effort which, much to his surprise, was ruled out for offside.
Jenkinson and the diligent Kristoffer Olsson then squandered further opportunities, but Yennaris soon had to make a crucial intervention at the other end to cut out Plumain’s searching cross before it reached Moussa Dembele.
Macey excelled himself late on, with the goalkeeper, who seems a far more promising prospect than Deyan Iliev, making several crucial stops in the closing stages. Arsenal introduced Glen Kamara for the struggling Frimpong, but they still had much work to attend to as the game drew to a frantic conclusion.
Joronen went up for a corner from which one of his team-mates rattled the outside of the far post with a header, then an in-swinging free-kick took a deflection off Ajayi before eventually being claimed by Macey.
Arsenal had rode their luck a little, but their perseverance eventually paid off and, having inflicted Fulham’s first defeat at this level this season, they will now face another one of their London rivals, Chelsea, in the last eight.
If last season’s meeting between the two sides in the NextGen Series can provide any sort of indication of what is in store, it could well be a classic encounter.