By Nick Teale
Arsenal Under-18s are through to the Academy League Play-Off Final after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Manchester United on Friday. James Shea saved the Red Devils' second spot kick and the Gunners converted all five of theirs to claim Semi-Final victory at United's Carrington training ground. The teams couldn't be separated in 90 minutes and substitute Oguzhan Ozyakup put Steve Bould's side ahead in the first half of extra time but United's John Cofie equalised with nine minutes remaining. Arsenal's victory sets up an Emirates Stadium Final against either Leicester City or Nottingham Forest. Before today's game Manchester United had been enjoying a 12-game unbeaten run while the Gunners were coming into the match on the back of a 4-1 defeat to Crystal Palace. However, Bould named an entirely different XI for the trip to Manchester, fielding a much more experienced side. Prolific goalscorers Benik Afobe and Luke Freeman both started, as did Conor Henderson who has featured on the first-team bench recently. Reece Brown, younger brother of Wes, started at right back for the hosts. Arsenal started brightly and bossed the first-half but United made a habit of blocking the Gunners' goalbound shots. Chuks Aneke was the first to test keeper Conor Devlin with a 20-yard drive before Ignasi Miquel headed inches wide from a Henderson corner. With 13 minutes played United created the best chance of the half. Lively winger Nicky Ajose picked out Joshua King but the striker could only find the side netting with his glancing header. Roarie Deacon was making a nuisance of himself on the right and won a succession of corners for the Gunners and Afobe was unlucky with the bounce as he tried to connected with a low delivery. With half an hour played Freeman came agonisingly close to finding the opener when he unleashed an effort aimed at the top corner and Afobe was thwarted by an onrushing Devlin five minutes later as he tried to convert a lofted ball into the back of the net. The Gunners continued to impose themselves on the hosts and Freeman came close again in the 39th minute. Deacon was the provider of a cross which fell for the former Gillingham man at the back post. He eyed the bottom corner but was denied by the woodwork. The second half looked like being much the same story when Freeman attacked the left flank to deliver a cross for Afobe. Devlin got an initial hand to the ball but wasn't able to hold on. He did, however, smoother the ball just in time to prevent a tap-in. At that point the tide turned in favour of the hosts. First Ignasi Miquel was forced to block Will Keane's goalbound effort and then Brown sliced a guilt-edge chance from a matter of yards. With the hour mark approaching Shea was called into action as King target goal from the edge of the area. The keeper turned the ball around the post as the game became an end-to-end thriller. With 63 minutes played Bould's side almost claimed the lead. Afobe beat his man on the right side of the area and fired across goal. The striker had the keeper beaten and his effort was close but the wrong side of the post. Within 60 seconds Freeman forced a diving save before Afobe's volley hit Paul Pogba just yards from where it was struck. It looked like either side could win the game in normal time and with 20 minutes remaining Shea pulled off a fantastic stop, tipping Ravel Morrison's 30-yard thunderbolt over the bar. It was a pulsating tie but the final 20 minutes couldn't live up to the opening 70. United kept probing and Morrison, Keane and Ryan Tunnicliffe all had half chances but the game was forced to extra time. And six minutes into the additional 90 United should have scored. In fact, it was a chance that looked difficult to miss. Ajose got to the byline on the left and delivered a cutback to Keane. Six yards out and in the middle of the goal, he had to score. But he dragged his effort off target and Shea pounced before any United players could get to the ball. And Keane would pay. Four minutes later, Arsenal went ahead. Bould introduced Ozyakup from the bench and two touches later the Dutchman had given his side the lead. Freeman attacked the left flank and sent a looping cross towards the back post, where Ozyakup controlled before firing past Devlin. He was delighted with his strike, so much so that he was booked for his celebrations. But the Gunners' lead wouldn't last long. Four minutes into the second half of extra-time, Manchester United substitute Cofie was to repeat Ozyakup's feat of scoring within a minute of his introduction. From the left side of goal he slotted across Shea looking for the bottom corner. He didn't quite find it but nonetheless his strike cannoned into the opposite side of goal after hitting the post. United were level, and the game would go to penalties. Ozyakup and King both scored their side's first spot kicks but after Cedric Evina was successful with Arsenal's second, Shea was able to save Tunnicliffe's 12-yard effort with a dive to the left. It gave Arsenal an advantage they wouldn't surrender. Freeman and Afobe both added to the Gunners' tally while Scott Wootton ensured United didn't fall any further behind. Paul Pogba then converted a must-score penalty, but his efforts went unrewarded as Emmanuel Frimpong converted Arsenal's fifth to send them through to the Final.
Penalty Shoot-out0-1 - Ozyakup (Arsenal) SCORES1-1 - King (Manchester United) SCORES1-2 - Evina (Arsenal) SCORES1-2 - Tunnicliffe (Manchester United) SAVED1-3 - Freeman (Arsenal) SCORES2-3 - Wooten (Manchester United) SCORES2-4 - Afobe (Arsenal) SCORES3-4 - Pogba (Manchester United) SCORES3-5 - Frimpong (Arsenal) SCORES
Referee: C Kavanagh
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