(Brentford win 5-4 on penalties)
By Mo Khan
Arsenal went out of the FA Youth Cup at the first hurdle after losing to Brentford on penalties on Thursday night.
The west London side went ahead in the 30th minute through Darius Charles but Alex Song equalised 12 minutes from the end of normal time. Anthony Stokes edged the home side in front 11 minutes into the first half of extra time but Ryan Watts struck six minutes later to take the tie to penalties.
Each side missed one of their allotted five and so the tie went to sudden death. Both sides missed once more in the next set but Brentford scored to leave Henri Lansbury needing to hit the net to keep Arsenal's hopes alive. He could not manage it and Steve Bould's men went out.
Bould had named a starting XI boasting four players with first-team experience. Indeed, one of that quartet, midfielder Song, started the Champions League win over FC Thun last month. The other three - Fabrice Muamba, Anthony Stokes and Nicklas Bendtner have all appeared in this season's Carling Cup campaign for Arsène Wenger's side.
After a low-key start, Arsenal nearly forced an opener. Anthony Stokes - arguably the Gunners' best performer on the night - worked his way to the byline on the left of the box and crossed for Bendtner. The Dane made contact but his close-range effort was blocked and hacked clear by the Brentford rearguard.
All of Arsenal's attacks were being channelled down the left flank with the energetic Mitchell Murphy joining the play from left-back as often as he could.
In the 14th minute, Jay Simpson raced clear on the right and cooly chipped the ball over the advancing Sam Moore in the Brentford goal. But whistle had blown for offside and the Bees survived.
But it was the visitors who took the lead on the half-hour mark. Their powerful centre-back, Charles, found himself all alone inside the Arsenal penalty area and when the ball arrived at his feet at the far post, he smashed home a close-range volley.
Bould made two changes at half-time, replacing Rene Steer and Giorgos Efrem with Jeffrey Imudia and Henri Lansbury. But the Gunners were made to wait until the 78th minute to restore parity.
Song started and finished the move to net his first goal in Arsenal colours. The combative midfielder made a powerful run to the byline on the left and when his centre was headed back across the goal, Simpson and Bendtner had shots blocked before Song made it third time lucky from close-range.
Nine minutes later, Bendtner could have won it for Arsenal after the impressive Stokes played him through. Bendtner took it first time, poking the ball past Moore with outside of his right foot but he didn't get enough on it and a covering Brentford defender cleared from the line.
And so to extra time and the goal of the game. Simpson, in a rich vein of form recently, was fouled on the right-hand corner of the penalty area. The 17-year-old told Arsenal.com recently that he has been taking advice from the Gunners' star striker Thierry Henry - last night it showed.
In Henry-esque fashion the right-winger jumped to his feet and took an early free-kick releasing Bendtner on the right. The striker's low cross was tapped home in the middle by Stokes to give Bould's men the lead for the first time in the match.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, they could not hold on and a minute into the second half of extra-time, Watts fired home the rebound from his own shot to take the game to penalties.
After Murphy and Charles both missed for Arsenal and Brentford respectively, the shoot-out went to sudden death. Muamba and Karleigh Osborne both missed before Ross Montague scored to leave Lansbury needing to score to keep the Gunners in the competition. Unfortunately, he did not, and Arsenal were out.
"It was a very disappointing performance," Bould told Arsenal.com after the game. "In the first half I thought we were never on the ball game at all. We were lacking a bit of commitment that was expected.
"The second half was much, much better but by then they [Brentford] had got a toehold in the game - I think they believed they could win it. But once we were 2-1 up, it was disappointing [to lose] and it was a poor goal [to concede] -
Even in defeat, Bould expressed his admiration for Brentford's performance. "I thought (Brentford) were far more driven," he said.
"They had far more commitment than us, wanted the win more than us and that was the disappointing part."
Dimitrov tries to block Shane Tracy
Charlie Ide and Fabrice Muamba clash
Dark and Jay Simpson tangle
Lewis Dark slides in on Alexandre Song
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