The Arsenal u23s suffered a heartbreaking penalty-shootout exit from the Premier League Cup on Wednesday, despite a last-minute equaliser.

Marcelo Flores during the Arsenal u23s' match against Middlesbrough (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)
Marcelo Flores during the Arsenal u23s’ match against Middlesbrough (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)

With various players unavailable, the Arsenal u23s were forced to travel to Middlesbrough without a recognised centre-forward.

They had two-thirds of their usual front three, with Marcelo Flores and Omari Hutchinson both starting, but midfielder James Olayinka had to fill in as the number nine.

That ended up having a pretty material impact on proceedings, as both Flores and Hutchinson often found themselves isolated with no one to play off.

The duo still caused a lot of problems, but Arsenal found it much more difficult to convert possession into chances.

Hutchinson had the best opportunity of the first half, seeing his rebound blocked after Olayinka’s initial shot was clear off the line. Goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo had to be alert on a number of occasions at the other end to keep the scores level.

After the break, the game continued in the same pattern until Stephen Walker scored a looping header for Middlesbrough 13 minutes from time.

Attempting to save the game, Arsenal u23 head coach Kevin Betsy introduced Joel Ideho and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, and it was Butler-Oyedeji that made the difference.

Adding some drive and directness, Butler-Oyedeji went down in the box under two strong challenges, the second of which was awarded as a penalty in the 88th minute.

Hutchinson stepped up to convert the spot-kick, despite the goalkeeper going the right way.

Arsenal u23s during their match against Middlesbrough (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)
Arsenal u23s during their match against Middlesbrough (Photo via Arsenal Academy on Twitter)

The game went to extra time, but neither side was able to fashion any great chances, and it was inevitable a penalty shootout would eventually decide things.

Arsenal kicked off that shootout in the worst way, with Mazeed Ogungbo’s tame effort saved by the goalkeeper’s legs.

The Gunners pulled themselves back level as Zak Swanson and Miguel Azeez scored and Okonkwo made a big penalty save, followed by Flores converting his kick for 3-3.

As Middlesbrough scored their fifth penalty, Arsenal had to score to stay in the competition, but Hutchinson saw his penalty saved by the goalkeeper.

Unfortunately, it’s always a bit of a mind game taking two spot-kicks in the same match. Hutchinson can still be proud of how he handled the pressure to send the game to extra time in the first place, and he should bounce back without a problem.

Arsenal u23 lineup vs Middlesbrough

Okonkwo, Walters, Swanson, Kirk, Ogungbo, Sousa, Henry-Francis, Azeez, Olayinka, Flores, Hutchinson


Ejeheri, Ibrahim (for Olayinka, 115), Ideho (for Sousa, 78), Butler-Oyedeji (for Henry-Francis, 81)

What’s next?

With Arsenal’s Premier League Cup participation at an end, the u23s will be fully focused on the end of their Premier League 2 campaign.

Their next game is at Meadow Park against Blackburn Rovers on Monday, March 14th.