By Isaac Moore at the Recreation Ground
Arsenal Under-21s are into the semi-finals of the Under-21 Premier League Cup after an extra-time win over London rivals Chelsea at the Recreation Ground.
The Gunners had to withstand long periods of pressure throughout the game and had Matt Macey to thank for pulling off a string of fine saves.
But Arsenal kicked on in extra time and got a deserved winner when Benik Afobe scored an exquisite goal in the 106th minute of the game.
SETTING THE SCENE
Steve Gatting made five changes from the team that lost 4-2 to Liverpool. Danny Boateng came in for the departed Nico Yennaris at right back while Julio Pleguezuelo filled in at centre back with Isaac Hayden moving further forward into midfield. Kris Olsson replaced Emmanuel Frimpong and Ryo was given a start on the right flank.
Arsenal had won two games away from home to get to the last eight, first against Norwich and then at Fulham at the beginning of the month. But Chelsea would surely be their toughest test. The Blues are currently third in the Under-21 Premier League and came into this game unbeaten in their last nine games.
It was a pretty even start to the contest. Lewis Baker stung Macey's palms with a fierce drive from 25 yards before Jeremie Bola shot straight at the 19-year-old moments later.
Arsenal's first chance came in the 14th minute when a mix-up in the Chelsea defence allowed Afobe to nip in but he was forced into a tight angle and his shot was pushed away by Mitchell Beeney.
The best chance of the half came for the home side in the 24th minute. Baker's free-kick found defender Alex Davey unmarked in the box but he couldn't adjust his feet in time and miscued a first-time volley over.
Macey was called into action again seven minutes before the break when he tipped over an Alex Kiwomya shot after a Chelsea counter-attack. A minute later, Boga slid in John Swift but his shot hit the side-netting.
The hosts were quickest out of the blocks and missed a gilt-edged chance to take the lead on 48 minutes. Kiwomya found space on the right and sent over a cross towards Islam Feruz but he volleyed over from close range when he should have hit the target.
Despite having lots of possession in Chelsea's half, the Gunners were struggling to create many clear openings.
Macey was by far the busiest of the two keepers and was forced to make another good stop when he pushed away Isaiah Brown's effort in the 58th minute.
The Arsenal stopper then blocked another Brown shot with his legs as Chelsea began to crank up the pressure.
Playing conditions got worse by the minute as the pitch cut up, restricting Arsenal from playing in their usual fluent, passing style.
But in the 89th minute, the Gunners missed a glorious chance to snatch victory. Eisfeld got to the byline and pulled the ball back for substitute Jon Toral, who put his shot wide with the goal gaping.
Gatting's men started the first period of extra time on the front foot. Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill's cross was deflected into Afobe's path but the forward could only miscue his shot wide.
In the 97th minute, Macey made his best save of the night. The ball fell to substitute Adam Nditi at the back post but Macey scrambled across his goal to block and then cling onto the rebound.
Chelsea came even closer six minutes later when Baker's free-kick was blocked on the line but the rebound came back to the winger and his curled effort clipped the bar.
On the stroke of half-time, Arsenal missed another excellent chance to take the lead. Ormonde-Ottewill's low cross found Eisfeld, the German composed himself but Nathan Ake got back and blocked his shot off the line.
Arsenal's winner finally came in the first minute of the second period. Afobe latched onto Olsson's long ball and lifted a deft lob over the advancing Beeney and into the far corner.
Chelsea threw players forward in search of an equaliser but Arsenal held out to claim a win that their extra-time performance merited.
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