Norwich City Under-21s 0, Arsenal Under-21s 1
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Norwich City slipped out of the Premier League Under-21 Cup on Tuesday night at Carrow Road despite a spirited late onslaught against the slick Gunners.
Benik Afobe's first half goal eased the Londoners into the last 16 but Steve Gatting's side were made to suffer in the final 15 minutes with the young Canaries denied by visiting keeper Matt Macey on several occasions.
City's starting line up contained seven of the victorious FA Youth Cup winning squad from last season with both Jacob and Josh Murphy in new boss Mark Robson's side. Jamar Loza was also named on the bench after returning from his loan spell at League One Coventry. The Gunners' included the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong, Ryo Miyaichi and captain Nico Yennaris who had all featured in the Premier League.
Carlton Morris signalled his intent with a driving run inside the opening seconds before slipping in Josh Murphy but Semi Ajayi scrambled the cross away. Reece Hall-Johnson was crudely upended by Isaac Hayden following another incursion but Josh Murphy's whipped free kick was collected with relative comfort by Macey.
Adel Gafaiti displayed admirable strength to lever the dangerous Afobe off the ball with Arsenal making their first real foray into the hosts' final third. City were dominating the early stages of the tie but the Gunners carried a potent threat on the counter and Remi Matthews was pressed into action to gather Miyaichi's low strike which appeared destined for the bottom corner.
Gedion Zelalem's disguised square pass freed Jon Toral to try and test the Norwich keeper, but the Spanish winger skied his shot into the empty terracing. Rod Young triggered a sharp riposte from the Canaries after Arsenal's sharp passing in midfield was temporarily disrupted but Morris' step over did not fool the towering Hayden who calmly shepherded the ball behind for the concession of a corner the Gunners' dealt with decisively.
Matthews then denied Afobe from 16 yards in the 25th minute after Zelalem's cheeky back heel had deceived two City defenders The same protagonists duelled again shortly afterwards with Matthews' legs this time foiling the impressive Afobe. Arsenal's mobile frontman was finally rewarded in first half stoppage time just when it appeared City had collectively regained their early composure when he rode two weak challenges to roll underneath the advancing Matthews from 14 yards. Gunners' centre-back Ajayi earned a booking after the restart for a lunge from behind that felled Young, but Arsenal suffered a more worrying blow in the 49th minute when goalscorer Afobe was forced to depart clutching his left hamstring after attempting to close down Norwich full-back Ewan McNeil. Canaries' chief Robson made his first move from the bench with Loza replacing teenager Morris up front.
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The visitors' control of the game remained largely unchecked, however, with Kyle McFadden's defensive positioning coming to the hosts' rescue when Yennaris injected some pace into the Gunners' smooth rhythmical passing. Macey's lack of concentration almost contrived to hand Norwich a way back into the contest in the 70th minute when he was caught in possession by Josh Murphy, but the Gunners' keeper was able to retrieve the situation. The rangy Hayden then burst from central midfield but drilled wide with Matthews committed. Loza rounded Macey in the 72nd minute before rolling into the empty net but the celebrations among the small pocket of home fans situated in the Jarrold Stand were cut short by the assistant's offside flag.
Young's sublime drag back fashioned the best chance of the night to that point for Norwich but Macey beat away his powerful left-footed drive. Loza was then denied by Macey at his near post before Young's follow up clipped the grounded keeper and brushed the side netting during City's best concerted spell of the contest. Jacob Murphy's rising goalbound shot was then athletically tipped over by Macey in the 84th minute who managed to drop on the wide player's curling left footed follow up effort moments later with Norwich finishing the cup-tie firmly on top.
• Norwich City: Matthews, McNeil, McFadden, Gafaiti, Toffolo, Hall-Johnson, Hodd, Jacob Murphy, Young, Josh Murphy, Morris (Loza 53). Subs (not used): Oxborough, Barker, Norman, Eaton-Collins.
• Bookings: Toffolo, Loza, Hall-Johnson.
• Arsenal: Macey, Yennaris, Omonde-Ottewill, Hayden, Ajayi, O'Connor, Miyachi (Bellerin 55), Frimpong, Afobe (Akpom 52), Zelalem. Toral. Subs (not used): Huddart, Olsson, Boateng.
• Bookings: Ajayi, Hayden, Ormonde-Ottewill.
• Goal: Afobe (45)
• Referee: G Jerden