Late Afobe strikes sees Arsenal prevail past Chelsea in U21 Premier League Cup


U21 Premier League Cup- Quarter Final

Chelsea 0 Arsenal 1 (Afobe 106)

By Jeorge Bird at The EBB Stadium, Aldershot

The hour-long drive, the freezing cold, a dour, disappointing, stagnated encounter for the most part and then, just when you think it’s been a wasted journey, a moment of sublime quality takes place deep into extra-time, with Kristoffer Olsson playing a wonderfully-weighted through ball into the path of Benik Afobe, who finishes emphatically to score the goal’s only game.

That was the tale of the encounter between Arsenal and Chelsea’s much-vaunted U21 sides in Aldershot this evening. It was a meeting between two sides containing some supremely talented youngsters, with Jeremie Boga particularly impressing for the hosts, but the occasion was littered with avoidable mistakes from both teams.

Chelsea appeared to seize the initiative as the game dragged on and it was the home side who came the closest to scoring on several occasions as they twice rattled the woodwork and drew several saves from Arsenal’s alert goalkeeper Matt Macey.

The Gunners, for the most part, were lacking the ingenuity of passing that usually comes so naturally to them and struggled to create many clear cut chances before Afobe’s winner, other than the gilt-edged opportunity that fell to, and was squandered by substitute Jon Toral. Some of the defending from both sides, however, has to be commended, with Andreas Christensen resolute for Chelsea and Julio Pleguezuelo and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill equally effective for Arsenal.

It was hardly the best advertisement for U21 football, but Arsenal, for the third tie in succession, have prevailed courtesy of a victory by a single goal and, having now secured their place in the Semi-Finals, will be extremely confident of winning the inaugural U21 Premier League Cup.

With Nico Yennaris having departed earlier in the day and Tafari Moore on international duty, Daniel Boateng was called in from the cold to start at right-back, whilst first-team squad members Ryo and Gedion Zelalem also started. Zach Fagan was named in a matchday squad for the first time since August after recovering from injury.

Macey

Boateng-Ajayi-Pleguezuelo-Ormonde Ottewill

Hayden-Zelalem

Ryo-Olsson-Eisfeld

Afobe

subs: Toral (for Ryo, 74). Not used: Iliev, Kamara, Fagan, Iwobi.

Chelsea also named a strong side, with Nathan Ake and Izzy Brown amongst their starlets on show, but Arsenal made much of the early running and they wasted a good opportunity in the opening stages when Boateng headed wide from a corner.

Semi Ajayi then needlessly squandered possession at the other end and the centre-back was very nearly made to pay for his mistake, but thankfully Chelsea couldn’t take full advantage of the opportunity.

The ever-dangerous Boga, one of the stand-out performers in this game at the age of just 17, then seized possession but his shot was repelled by Macey.

As far as Arsenal’s attacking movements were concerned, Ryo was seeing a lot of the ball on the right flank, but the Japanese international appeared to be somewhat bereft of confidence as he frequently stumbled in possession and struggled to test Chelsea goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney with a weak effort.

Macey then reacted quickly to tip over an effort from Alex Kiwomya, then John Swift, who was diligent in midfield, rippled the side-netting with a venomous shot.

The game, thankfully for the spectators, began to open up a little after the interval, with Islam Feruz sending a header wide before Boga, involved again, couldn’t quite direct his effort on target. Brown then showed some ingenuity to cut inside Boateng, but found Macey equal to his attempt.

With the clock ticking down Arsenal introduced Toral for the tiring Ryo, but the Spaniard’s major contribution to the game would be memorable for all the wrong reasons after he somehow conspired to miss from close range when Thomas Eisfeld found him with an accurate cross.

There was an agonising moment at the other end before extra-time was confirmed, with Feruz capitalising on a misunderstanding between Macey and Ajayi only to see his effort trickle past the far post.

Chelsea put the ball in the net in the first-half of extra-time, but substitute Adam Nditi’s effort was ruled out following an apparent foul on an Arsenal player. Steve Gatting’s side were certainly living dangerously at that point, with Chelsea subsequently striking the crossbar, but they remained patient for their opportunity and eventually, at long, long last, it arrived.

Olsson found Afobe, who beat Beeney with an unstoppable effort to evoke a feeling of palpable relief. The striker may face an uphill battle in attempting to prolong his career at the club, but he is certainly making a case for his credentials, having now scored four goals in seven appearances since returning from injury.

A beleaguered Chelsea side threatened a late equaliser that would have forced penalties, but Arsenal had just about managed to scrape through in the end.

As far as their potential opponents in the Semi-Finals are concerned, there is still much to be clarified in that regard, with the other three Quarter-Finals still to be played.

Newcastle United and Manchester City meet on Friday, Exeter City play Burnley next week and Wolverhampton Wanderers will take on either Reading or Watford in the other tie.

Whoever they face, Gatting’s side will now be confident of going all the way having eliminated two of the strongest sides in the competition, Fulham and Chelsea, in successive rounds.

27 comments

  1. Afobe case reminds me of Henderson last season who was on a great run of form for the reserves in the second half of the season but was nevertheless released. With Joel Campbell slated for a chance next season that and the probale addition of a a new striker, it seems as if Afobe’s auditioning for a new club, credit to him he’s done it quite well.

  2. Afobe has more pedigree than a lot of our players, has incredible long history with Arsenal and I think he will get more of a look than many think.

    Before this run of injury Afobe was an England U-20 international and was part of the England U-17 team that won the Euro championship a couple of years ago. In that U-17 tournament he was a standout among some very good players.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/8713980.stm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_UEFA_European_Under-17_Football_Championship#Technical_team_selection

    Note that many of those players eg Wisdom are only just now beginning to break through at their teams. Pogba basically the first – and at that only last year really he started to play. Barkley just behind, Deulofelu now on loan at Everton. Butland coming along slowly but surely. So It is WAY too early to be jettisoning any player like Afobe who has been cream of the crop at that level and only hampered in his progress by injury.

    Plus Afobe has been here since age six or something. To have made it this far at the level he was been at, and looking at his development other than injury quite impressive – well that’s the reason the club does this stuff with kids that young. So I dont think Arsenal will throw Afobe away that easily. As long as he gets back from this injury and stabilizes, I think he will be offered another contract.

    I would expect he will get a chance in the first team for sure before Arsenal would dare to consider send him off. But he will take that chance anyway when he gets it, so I cant see it coming to that anyway.

    1. Zelalem makes the most of space around others and ball retention so I don’t expect him to stand out at this level within a confined pitch. However that’s no reason to withhold him from the first team and the staff realise this. About januzaj I don’t see utd games but utd fans have always said he stood out at youth level tbh. He didn’t against us admittedly but one if those games he played as striker. In any case it’s not really fair to compare zelalem to januzaj. I don’t like comparing specific youth players to begin with but not only are januzaj and zelalem completely different players but as matters stand januzaj has performed well in utds first team consistently for quite a period so has proved a lot mor to date.

      1. I wasn’t so much comparing the two – just pointing out that a “class player” can do better in a first team than in the “reserves”. No United fans if they had even seen januzaj would have expected him to play like he did on moving up. People just bullshit with hindsight.

  3. Jeorge, how good is Pleguezuelo? I am surprised he has skipped under-18 football to under-21. And I might be wrong but I think the academy staff rate him higher than O’Connor. How did he perform against Chelsea

    1. watched it on chav tv, to be honest u didn’t miss much, the afobe goal aside we were completely dominated, but had the luck along with some poor finishing by Chelsea. I think it says it all that boateng looked our best defender, whilst ryo is looking poor. I thought Olsson was our best player over all.

  4. When Afobe finally got his chance he took it really well. Chelsea were on top for the most part (yet there was a fair bit of end to end play at times) but the final ball lacked quality and the finishing all round was piss poor. As is often the case.

  5. difficult to assess passing skills of midfielders seeing as the pitch was so awful although their were a couple of peaches including Kris’s delightfully flighted assist. The game was more about the battle than finesse and I thought once again Hayden lead the Team fantastically. The cb s worked well as a team and so on the many occasions one was beaten the second was always covering.

  6. Any news on loans (or permanent deals) for Ryo and Eisfeld? Both need first team action, and if it is to be in a top flight then time is running out. Both, imo, could do a job at somewhere like Palace or WBA although it wouldn’t be a shock if they ended up at a lower level. I have no great hope for their Arsenal futures to be fair.
    I wonder also if Afobe will be let out on loan. We don’t seem to have that many options up front so it may be best if he stays, with the CL returning soon.

    1. afobe is well behind giroud, bendtner and park, whilst podolski would also play cf ahead of him and more than likely sanogo too. so being 6th choice for the first team is no reason to halt his career. the more I see of our under 21s the more I get disappointed, to be fair its the under 19s that have the best potential. apart from Wilshire, jenkinson, chamberlain and possibly Campbell I would say the rest of players born 1991/2/3/4 are either not to the level required yet to move into the first or will simply never be. I am talking

      Francis Coquelin
      Emmanuel Frimpong
      Daniel Boateng
      Ryo Miyaichi
      Samuel Galindo
      Damian Martinez
      Ignasi Miquel
      Wellington Silva
      Chukwuemeka Aneke
      Thomas Eisfeld
      Yaya Sanogo
      Benik Afobe
      Semi Ajayi
      Zak Ansah
      Matthew Macey
      Zac Fagan

      add to that some 95/96’s who have a long way to go and you can see why another summer clearout could be on the cards.

      Austin Lipman
      Josh Vickers
      Dejan Iliev
      Jack Jebb
      Leander Siemann
      Tarum Dawkins
      Alfred Mugabo
      Glen Kamara
      Arinse Uade
      Renny Smith
      Elliot Wright

      Now before everyone jumps all over me, I am not saying get rid of all these players, far from it. with a new head of academy some of the could really turn their first team chances around I am simply saying they are some way behind the level required to make the first team on current showing and are well behind at least 35 other players currently on the books.

      1. Oh will you just shut up and lets these lads just enjoy their football without talk of who is getting released you sad prick

    1. Not writing sanogo off just saying he has yet to show the level required that could be due to injuries or a lack of quality, in his case it is the latter

  7. I quite enjoyed the game, though a lot of that might be down to ending up the victor’s against a quality side.

    They definitely edged us and we needed some luck to get it done, but we fought well. And though our football was very obviously hurt by a dire pitch, for once it’s true that the opposition’s probably was at least as much. Boga and Izzy Brown in particular would likely have punished us on a good pitch from positions they got in yesterday.

    Hayden was impressive and, despite how difficult it will be, my hopes remain that he can be the first home-grown under Wenger with notable strength as a strength. Olsson showed glimpses of immense quality, but was also guilty of a couple of very sloppy errors. Zelalem worked his way into making it a respectable showing, despite a pitch, and a match, which negated his greatest assets. Eisfeld remains an enigma : good technique, isn’t lazy, dangerous in the box, but just can’t get into games enough.

    Ryo looked utterly devoid of confidence. It doesn’t seem to make sense that a player who can excel in a decent league at 18 can struggle in youth football three years later, but it’s happened and I’d suggest he needs to leave soon to a non-English club and build his way back.

    Finally a word for Boateng. What with the lack of much involvement for more than a year here, the failure to feature on loan, and the reports of errors when he is involved, my hopes weren’t high; but he emerged with real credit, and I can’t help but mourn a little the inevitable loss of a youth product who looks about as tough as footballers come.

    I enjoy us having someone on the pitch like that and remain convinced that, if only fractionally, it helps protect the star talents on wet days in Middlesbrough and the like.

    Any chance there’s a left back among the scholars for next year, Jeorge? BOO looks a nice footballer, but if you’re on the small side as he is you need to be fantastic in other regards to make it in that position. Seniors would be stuffed at the moment if both left backs were injured.

  8. Boateng was primarily played as a cb maybe a career at rb would have suited him better but I agree another player who has worked hard but will not quite make it at the top level.
    Jeorge was kiwamya at ARSENAL I was convinced chris brought Alex for trials a few years back

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