By Rob Kelly at Mini Estadi, Barcelona
Arsenal have been knocked out of the Uefa Youth League after a 4-2 defeat in their quarter-final showdown with Barcelona on Tuesday.
In a thrilling game in Catalonia, the visitors missed an early penalty through Kris Olsson then fell behind when Munir El Haddadi scored.
Serge Gnabry equalised just before half time with his fourth goal in the competition, but Barca re-established the lead five minutes after the interval when the dangerous Adama Traore slotted home.
There was more drama soon afterwards when Deyan Iliev was sent off for taking down El-Haddadi in the area. But Godswill missed the resulting spot kick.
Chuba Akpom then equalised with seven minutes remaining and it looked like the game would be heading to a penalty shoot-out, but two late goals from Kaptoum and Traore took the game away from the Gunners.
It was a disappointing end to the game, but they still have much to be proud of from another highly-encouraging campaign in Europe.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made two changes to the side that beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the last-16, with Stefan O’Connor replacing Leander Siemann and Olsson returning to captain the side at the expense of the suspended Glenn Kamara. Gedion Zelalem - fresh from signing a professional contract with the Club - started in central midfield.
Having spent a sun-soaked morning on a tour around the Nou Camp, the Gunners were well aware of the heritage of their opponents. Barcelona had topped Group H with five wins out of six, scoring 20 goals in the process - more than any other side in the competition. They had also dispatched FC Copenhagen 4-1 in the last-16, justifying their tag as one of the favourites for the Youth League.
But Arsenal’s fine form in the competition had raised eyebrows across Europe too, making this arguably the most fascinating of the quarter-final ties.
The Gunners made a bright start to the game, zipping around passes on the pristine surface and leaving the hosts chasing shadows at times. Gnabry and O’Connor both went close as Gatting’s side took control, before they were awarded a penalty when Akpom was felled in the area. However, Olsson’s spot kick hit the post.
It was a blow to the visitors, while Barca visibly took encouragement from it and set about establishing a foothold in the game.
El Haddadi is the Youth League’s top scorer but for much of the first half he had been frustrated by the composed Arsenal backline, who hadn’t given him a sniff. But when he finally did strike his eighth goal of the competition, it came in unfortunate circumstances for O’Connor as his clearance from inside the area hit the forward and deflected into the net.
The dangerous Adama Traore had a golden chance to extend the hosts’ lead soon afterwards when he exchanged passes with Huertas before blasting a shot over from eight yards.
But back came Arsenal, and they grabbed a deserved equaliser in the 43rd minute when former Barcelona academy product Jon Toral fed Gnabry with a beautifully-weighted pass and he slotted beyond Ondoa.
The second half started in the worst possible fashion for Arsenal as the hosts re-established the lead when Enguene sent Traore clear and he beat Iliev with a composed finish.
Barca could have extended their lead just before the hour mark when Kaptoum blasted over the bar from just inside the area, and they were granted an even better chance when El Haddadi was taken down by Iliev in the area. The Arsenal goalkeeper was given his marching orders, but Godswill blasted his penalty high and wide.
A man down, Arsenal were always going to be up against it but with Toral pulling the strings in midfield they remained dangerous on the counter. And with seven minutes remaining they showed their character once again to equalise as Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill escaped down the left and crossed for Akpom to convert at the near post.
But there was still more drama to come as Kaptoum and Traore scored twice in a minute to condemn the Gunners to defeat. Their Youth League campaign was over.
- Iliev Red Card
- Pleguezuelo Yellow Card
- Zelalem 61
- Gnabry 71 Goal!
- Toral 84
- Akpom Goal!
- Vickers 61
- Jebb 71
- Iwobi 84
- Huertas 46
- Rolon 74
- El Haddadi Goal!
- Traore Goal! Goal!
- Kaptoum 46 Goal!
- Moha 74