Arsenal Under-21s continued their unbeaten start to the season with a narrow 1-0 win over Norwich in the Under-21 Premier League Cup.
Benik Afobe put the Gunners ahead on the stroke of half-time after an impessive first-half display.
But the Canaries dominated the latter stages of the game and only an inspired performance from goalkeeper Matt Macey prevented the game going to extra time.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made three changes from the side that beat Aston Villa last week. Stefan O’Connor came in for Julio Pleguezuelo at the heart of the defence, Gedion Zelalem replaced Thomas Eisfeld and Ryo took Serge Gnabry's place.
Jon Toral and Afobe kept their places after both impressing in a scintillating first-half display over Villa. The Canaries came into this game on the back of an inconsistent start to their league season.
Both teams started at a lightening pace and gaps immediately began to appear for either to exploit on the counter-attack. Josh Murphy drilled in a free-kick which Macey did well to hold in the sixth minute before Ryo fired a shot straight at Remi Matthews.
In the 19th minute Zelalem played a clever ball into Toral’s path but the Spaniard sent his first-time effort high over the bar.
Arsenal should have taken the lead on 25 minutes. Zelalem was involved again, this time playing a cute backheel into Toral’s path. The Spaniard’s cross eventually found Ryo, who unselfishly teed up Afobe but his shot was parried away by Matthews.
Afobe was denied again three minutes later after Toral played a slide-rule pass into the forward’s path but Matthews was quick off his line to make a smart stop with his legs.
The Gunners were starting to dictate proceedings but needed a goal to show for it. Emmanuel Frimpong let fly from 30 yards but Matthews made a straightforward stop.
A head injury to Ryo appeared to halt Arsenal’s rhythm for the remainder of the half. But in first-half stoppage time, Afobe struck his first competitive goal since returning from injury to give the Gunners a deserved lead going into the break.
The 20-year-old twisted past two defenders inside the box before slotting a cool finish under Matthews.
The start of the second period was disrupted by a string of enforced subsitutions. Ryo didn’t recover from the blow to the face at the end of the first half and was replaced by Hector Bellerin. Goalscorer Afobe pulled up with a hamstring injury and was immediately replaced by Chuba Akpom.
Norwich forced a number of corners in the first 15 minutes of the half but Arsenal, who were well organised at the back throughout the game, defended them well.
The hosts were almost gifted an equaliser with 20 minutes remaining. O’Connor and exchanged passes with Macey but they were both too casual. Substitute Jamar Loza intercepted but failed to control and Macey recovered to clear.
Two minutes later, Isaac Hayden had the visitors’ best effort of the second half when he drove a low shot inches past the far post.
The last 15 minutes was end-to-end but Arsenal had Macey to thank for preventing extra-time.
In the 77th minute, Rod Young beat two defenders before slamming a shot towards goal but the young goalkeeper beat the ball away with his fists.
Seconds later, Macey made a sublime double save. He got down low to parry Loza’s shot before getting quickly off his feet to deny Young with his legs.
Arsenal were hanging on in the closing stages. With seven minutes remaining Jacob Murphy sent in a curling shot that looked destined for the top corner but Macey came to the rescue yet again, tipping the ball over the bar.
But the Gunners held on to move into the next round.
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