AFC Wimbledon produced an impressive second-half performance to edge a step closer to Wembley in the Papa John’s Trophy.
All the goals in a 3-0 win at Plough Lane came in the second 45 minutes, sparked by Ryan Longman's introduction, the on-loan Brighton forward scoring just minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute, before setting up Paul Osew for the second. Joe Pigott scored during injury-time to seal it, and by that time Arsenal Under-21s had been reduced to nine men with two late red cards shown.
As expected, Glyn Hodges shuffled his pack for this game with Paul Osew handed his first appearance since the group stage match against Brighton in this competition in September. Adam Roscrow, who scored in that game, also started this match. It was a strong Dons line-up selected, consisting of players who had played regular League One football this season. In opposition, Sokratis added first-team experience for Arsenal Under-21s, the Greek international bolstering the back-line for the Gunners. Another notable inclusion for Arsenal was first-teamer Gabriel Martinelli, the Brazilian forward on the comeback trail from a knee injury suffered in the summer.
Wimbledon started on the front foot and there was a half chance for the Dons in just the seventh minute after Ethan Chislett had been fouled just outside the area. Steve Seddon struck the free-kick well, but it was too close to Arsenal keeper Karl Hein, who held onto the ball well. A very good Dons move followed a few minutes later when Chislett picked out Osew on the left and his cut-back found Adam Roscrow, who shot just wide of the near post. The Dons continued to probe and Terell Thomas headed over the crossbar from 10 yards.
As we approached the midway point of the first-half, Arsenal’s youngsters started to really come into the game, spreading the ball around effectively. Their first attempt on goal came through Miguel Azeez, who struck a powerful drive just over the crossbar. Wimbledon maintained a good defensive shape to nullify the visitors and when Arsenal did find a way through Will Nightingale was in the right place to make an impressive last-ditch block. In the 36th minute came Arsenal’s best chance so far and it fell to Martinelli. The man who scored 10 goals for Arsenal’s first-team last season had a golden opportunity, but Nik Tzanev reacted well to deny him from point-blank range.
It had been a very even first-half with a Wimbledon having had the better chances early on, before being forced onto the back foot and having to maintain a good defensive shape in the latter part of the half. At the start of the second-half Wimbledon attempted to regain attacking momentum and Chislett put in a lovely cross to the back post, but the flag was up for offside. There was a half chance for Roscrow shortly afterwards when the ball fell to him nicely just outside the area, but his shot was too close to Hein.
Wimbledon produced a really good passage of play in the 56th minute that had Glyn Hodges applauding from the technical area. A good Dons move ended with a lovely cross from the right by Paul Osew that picked out Ollie Palmer and he directed a powerful header towards the bottom corner, but Hein spread himself well to save. With 65 minutes on the clock, Ryan Longman was introduced in place of Adam Roscrow and the on-loan Brighton forward had an immediate impact. Palmer played a big part by pressurising Arsenal into a mistake when they were attempting to play out from the back and Longman pounced on the loose ball, before firing home emphatically.
The opening Wimbledon goal came in the 68th minute and it didn’t take long for a second to follow. Just five minutes later came the second with Longman again heavily involved as he produced a fine run before finding Osew, who finished emphatically. It was particularly sweet for Osew as he grew up as a boy supporting Arsenal. With 75 minutes gone Palmer came off and he could certainly be pleased with his contribution, the striker looking leaner after increasing his minutes in recent weeks. That was reflected in his performance as he pressed Arsenal’s young defenders into mistakes, and came close to his first Wimbledon goal.
In the latter stages, Arsenal’s task was made even harder when they had two men sent off in quick succession. With 11 minutes remaining, Tim Akinola was shown a second yellow card for kicking the ball away in a show of petulance and then William Saliba was also sent off for a second bookable offence after a late challenge. By that stage it was all over anyway, and Wimbledon’s second-half performance fully merited a place in the last-16 of the competition. However, there was still time for Wimbledon to finish with a flourish as Joe Pigott slotted home emphatically after being set-up by Ethan Chislett, sealing a fine night at Plough Lane for the Dons.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Ollie Palmer (Joe Pigott), Adam Roscrow (Ryan Longman), Ethan Chislett, Shane McLoughlin, Paul Kalambayi, Callum Reilly, Paul Osew, Steve Seddon.