Papa Johns Trophy – Last 32
Stevenage 3 (Amoo 51, Sweeney 69, Read 75) Arsenal U21s 2 (Butler-Oyedeji 6, Cozier-Duberry 74)
By Jeorge Bird @ The Lamex Stadium
Arsenal U21s’ dreams of playing at Wembley in the Papa Johns Trophy are over for another year at least following a tumultuous encounter away to Stevenage tonight.
The young Gunners were impressive in the first half and took an early lead through Nathan Butler-Oyedeji but Stevenage rallied after the break and scored twice before the effervescent Amario Cozier-Duberry equalised for Arsenal.
Arsenal were level for a matter of moments, however, as a superb strike from Arthur Read restored Stevenage’s lead and proved to be decisive in settling the game.
There weren’t too many surprises in the Arsenal team apart from the fact that Catalin Cirjan was named on the bench, with Jack Henry-Francis and Mauro Bandeira both starting in midfield.
Cozier Duberry-Butler Oyedeji-Sagoe Jr
Subs: Ideho (for Sagoe Jr, 66), Cirjan (for Henry-Francis, 78), Lewis-Skelly (for Walters, 79), Nwaneri (for Bandeira, 80). Not used: Hillson, Monlouis, Taylor-Hart.
Matt Smith made an important challenge to cut out the danger in the early stages but Arsenal quickly managed to assert themselves on proceedings, with Charles Sagoe Jr and Cozier-Duberry looking lively.
Cozier-Duberry laid the ball off to Butler-Oyedeji, who continued his fantastic form in this competition this season as he opened the scoring.
Despite taking an early lead Arsenal didn’t have matters all their own way and Taylor Foran made a good clearance before a header from Jordan Roberts hit the side-netting as Stevenage increased the intensity.
Stevenage had further chances but Arsenal then created an opening of their own with Cozier-Duberry cutting inside prior to shooting wide.
Graczyk made a fine stop with his feet and Alex Gilbey squandered an inviting opportunity for Stevenage from close range.
Stevenage emerged with greater determination in the second half and they managed to equalise when David Amoo steered the ball into the net following a corner. Amoo was part of the Liverpool side that knocked Arsenal out of the FA Youth Cup in 2008.
Butler-Oyedeji had a penalty claim turned down, with Joel Ideho then entering the fray in place of Sagoe Jr.
Stevenage continued to dominate proceedings and they then took the lead courtesy of a header from Dan Sweeney, with Arsenal caught out defensively.
At this point you wondered whether Arsenal would be able to respond but they managed to do just that through a wonderful effort from Cozier-Duberry, who twisted and turned prior to scoring.
The Arsenal supporters behind the goal were jubilant but their joy was shortlived as within the next minute Stevenage restored their lead as Read scored with a fine finish.
Arsenal made a triple substitution that saw Cirjan enter the fray along with talented schoolboys Ethan Nwaneri and Myles Lewis-Skelly, with Reuell Walters, Henry-Francis and Bandeira going off.
It was Stevenage who continued to threaten, however, with Graczyk pressed into action again to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Cozier-Duberry had a cross cut out and then Ideho, much to the bewilderment of the Arsenal fans, saw a penalty claim turned down.
Then the final whistle blew, with Arsenal’s elimination from this competition confirmed.
Although they only played one knockout fixture it has been quite a journey for Arsenal in this competition this season, taking in trips to Cambridge, Ipswich, Northampton and Stevenage.
The first half performance tonight offered encouragement but it wasn’t carried over into the second period, where defensive vulnerabilities came to the forefront.
Matt Smith and Henry-Francis impressed in the first half but their influence waned a little in the second period and there was a feeling that at least one of the midfield subs could have been made earlier.
Cozier-Duberry continues to stand out and it may not be too long until he is playing against senior opponents on a regular basis.
This turned into a disappointing night for Arsenal U21s but all is not lost, especially with Mehmet Ali’s side still top of Premier League 2 as well as having started well in the Premier League Cup and the Premier League International Cup.