Arsenal U18s reached the Semi-Finals of the FA Youth Cup this season for the first time in half a decade before being comprehensively outplayed by Chelsea in both legs, but what does the immediate future hold for the squad of 2013/14?
The goalkeeper was one of the major stars of the Youth Cup run as he made numerous spectacular saves, particularly during the victory away to Charlton Athletic. An uncharacteristic error enabled Chelsea to score on Thursday, but Vickers remains a hugely promising shot-stopper. He has spent the season on loan at Canvey Island, for whom he has been largely impressive, and will hope to feature regularly for Arsenal at U21 level next season, although he will face competition from Matt Macey and Deyan Iliev.
Another promising goalkeeper who signed his first professional contract with the club recently, Huddart was on the bench for all six of Arsenal’s Youth Cup ties this season. The England U17 international should be the first choice in this competition next season, whilst continuing to feature regularly in the U18 league games.
Another England U17 international, right-back Moore has made considerable strides this season, featuring for the U21 side as well as playing every minute of the Youth Cup run. Determined and possessing quick reactions, he does have some improvements to make tactically, but has a lot of raw talent and is also a threat in an attacking sense. Still eligible for the Youth Cup next season, he will also seek to establish himself as first-choice for the second-string, and is likely to sign a professional contract in the Summer.
Pleguezuelo has slotted in seamlessly at Arsenal since making a Summer switch from Barcelona. The centre-back is rather diminutive in stature but is quick across the ground and is an excellent reader of the game. He requires some development physically, but the Spanish U18 international is already a key player for Arsenal at U21 level and should receive plenty of further run-outs for the second-string next season.
Siemann has featured regularly for the various youth teams this season, amassing over 30 appearances in total, but the defender, who can play at right-back or centre-back, has largely struggled to convince. He had experienced a brief upturn in fortunes, but made several errors in the second-leg against Chelsea before being withdrawn. His contract expires in the Summer and is unlikely to be renewed.
Surprisingly overlooked for a place in the starting line-up for both legs of the Semi-Final, Hale End product O’Connor has also gained experience in the U21 league and the UEFA Youth League during the first year of his scholarship. A centre-back who is comfortable in possession, he is prone to occasional lapses in concentration, but should still step up to the U21 team on a regular basis next season.
For so long regarded as one of the club’s best prospects, Ormonde-Ottewill’s status has fallen a little recently following some disappointing performances. He has struggled defensively in recent weeks both positionally and in the timing of his challenges, although he is a considerable threat in the opposing penalty area. Already an U21 regular, he should continue at that level next season.
The stylish defensive-midfielder, who has represented Finland at U19 level, caught the eye in difficult circumstances against Chelsea on Thursday with his ability to break up play and also weave his way out of difficult situations when on the ball. He should be rewarded with a professional contract shortly, having made a combined total of 38 appearances for the various youth teams this campaign. A regular place in the U21 squad next season seems a certainty.
Promoted to the first-team squad at the age of 16, Zelalem has already made his competitive debut for the senior side, but some of his performances at youth level this season have left much to be desired, with the midfielder often a peripheral figure in games. His vision and ability to unlock defences with precise passes is clear, though, and it is hoped that, as he becomes a little stronger, we will see him dominate games more regularly. He looks set to feature in the Capital One Cup next season and could also be involved in other competitions, depending on his progression.
Another key performer in the Youth Cup run with three goals in the early rounds of the competition, winger Maitland-Niles has been one of Arsenal’s most consistently impressive players at youth level this season. Quick in his decision making and also willing to track back defensively, he has developed very well in the past twelve months. He will still play in the Youth Cup next campaign but will hope to be regularly involved with the U21 side.
A renowned set-piece specialist, Jebb has had to be patient for opportunities this season, with the likes of Zelalem and Dan Crowley often being preferred. He has caught the eye at times with his precise passing, but it remains to be seen how he will adapt to the rigours of playing at U21 level. No longer eligible for the U18s next season, he will be hoping to prove his ability at a higher level.
The England U17 international has enjoyed a hugely eventful season, featuring regularly for all the various youth teams and also earning a surprise call-up to the first-team squad for the Capital One Cup fixture against West Bromwich Albion. With his scholarship coming to an end, Iwobi, who possesses good technical ability and can play across the attacking line, should sign a professional contract soon.
The striker has seemed a level above some of his team-mates recently, having drawn on the experience gained during loan spells at Brentford and Coventry City. Having already featured, albeit fleetingly, in the Premier League and the Capital One Cup, Akpom could gain more first-team minutes next season, although he would also benefit from a loan to a Championship side. Now much stronger physically to add to his technical attributes, he will be seeking to develop even further next season.
The hard-working striker has not featured as regularly for the older age groups as he would have liked given the prowess of Akpom, but he he shown glimpses of his quality, particularly in the UEFA Youth League. A loan spell at Boreham Wood also helped his development, with the England U17 international now seeking to become a major part of the Arsenal U21 side.
The midfielder, signed from Aston Villa, has missed large parts of the season through injury, but, at times, has demonstrated his superb technical ability. He will be a key player in the Youth Cup side next season, but, as the campaign progresses, will also hope to establish himself more regularly in the U21 side.
The winger featured fleetingly in the Youth Cup run, setting up a goal away to Charlton, but has had to endure numerous injury setbacks during the course of his scholarship. He will hope to still be rewarded with a professional contract in the Summer, having shown his technical ability and considerable pace whilst featuring in the U18 league.
Recently afforded a trial spell at Sheffield Wednesday, versatile Rwanda senior international Mugabo looks set to be leaving Arsenal. Most comfortable as a defensive-midfielder, he is another player who has been plagued by injury problems and has yet to really demonstrate what he could be capable of.
A centre-back in the first year of his scholarship, Wright is developing well for the U18 side, and made the bench in the Youth Cup this season. He should be a regular in the competition next campaign as he strives to earn his first professional contract at the club.
The Nigerian defender has made some costly errors at U18 level, but has shown some signs of improvement in recent weeks. Whether it will be enough to earn him a professional contract remains to be seen.
The promising schoolboy, who is usually deployed as a defensive-midfielder, was the only U16 player to feature for Arsenal in the Youth Cup this season. He should be heavily involved during 2014/15, having already established himself in the U18 league.
Another schoolboy with much potential, Willock has already trained with the Arsenal first-team and made the bench for the Youth Cup tie against Everton at Emirates Stadium. There has been some concern, however, about whether he will accept the club’s offer of a scholarship for next season.
Match report- Arsenal youngsters struggle to cope with dominant Chelsea as they crash out of Youth Cup
FA Youth Cup Semi-Final Second Leg
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 1 (Colkett 16) (Chelsea win 3-1 on aggregate)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Arsenal’s hopes of winning the FA Youth Cup for the first time in five years were destroyed by an impressive Chelsea side at Emirates Stadium this evening. Chelsea, already carrying a 2-1 advantage from the First Leg at Stamford Bridge, capitalised on some woeful defending from Arsenal to score through Charlie Colkett and, despite Arsenal’s best efforts, didn’t come close to relinquishing their lead.
Arsenal did not give the best account of themselves during this tie, as they struggled as an attacking force in both legs, whilst Chelsea seemed physically and tactically superior throughout. This was Arsenal’s best run in the competition since they last won it in 2009, but, in these two games, they never came close to replicating the displays that the likes of Jack Wilshere produced half a decade ago.
Arsenal again failed to offer enough support to make the most of Chuba Akpom’s considerable talent and, although Gedion Zelalem was a little better than last week, the young Gunners lacked their usual fluidity, with Chelsea’s well drilled side closing them down at every opportunity.
Leander Siemann, meanwhile, made several defensive mistakes, rendering the decision to select him in preference to Stefan O’Connor rather bizarre.
Coach Carl Laraman made just one change from the First Leg, with Jack Jebb coming into the side at the expense of Dan Crowley, rather than Gedion Zelalem. Chelsea also made just a solitary alteration with Jay Da Silva being preferred to Isaiah Brown.
subs: Crowley (for Iwobi, 58), O’Connor (for Siemann, 67), Lipman (for Kamara, 86). Not used: Huddart, Mugabo.
Chelsea were impressive in the early stages, with Jordan Houghton sending a cross wide. Left-back Ola Aina then saw a shot saved by Josh Vickers following a good move involving Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Da Silva.
Arsenal’s first attacking move of note involved their two most dangerous attacking players, Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom, with Iwobi finding the striker, whose effort was deflected for a corner.
Chelsea soon provided Arsenal with a reminder of their threat, however. Kiwomya’s cross was cut out, with Charlie Colkett subsequently sending his shot wide. Arsenal then, not for the first time in this Youth Cup run, were reliant on Josh Vickers for coming to their rescue. The goalkeeper made a superb double save to deny Dominic Solanke twice in quick succession.
Arsenal then sought to assert themselves at the other end, with Jebb’s free-kick locating Julio Pleguezuelo at the far post, but the Spanish centre-back’s header was saved. The chances were coming thick and fast for both sides, and Chelsea would make their next opportunity count, with Colkett pouncing on some disappointing defending from Jebb and Siemann, as well as a rare mistake from Vickers, to open the scoring and give Chelsea a 3-1 aggregate lead.
Houghton then sought to put the tie beyond doubt, but Vickers held his shot. Arsenal demonstrated their quality when Zelalem played a clever lofted pass into the path of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but the winger’s shot was saved.
Da Silva then sent an effort wide for Chelsea, with Arsenal responding with their best move of the half. Iwobi embarked on a driving run down the left flank and spotted Akpom in space. Akpom back-heeled the ball into the path of his team-mate, with Iwobi’s shot eventually being cleared for a corner.
Chelsea ended the half as they started it by creating chances with regularity. Solanke shot over, then, after Zelalem lost the ball, Da Silva did well to find Kiwomya, whose shot lacked conviction.
Chelsea’s dominance continued after the interval, with Andreas Christensen somehow remaining unopposed as he marauded up the field before shooting wide. Arsenal came close at the other end, with the impressive Glen Kamara seeing his effort cleated off the line after he latched onto Jebb’s free-kick.
Arsenal then struck the post through Akpom after a precise through-ball from Zelalem, but the offside flag had already been raised. Arsenal sought to increase their attacking momentum by introducing Crowley in place of Iwobi, but Chelsea continued to dominate, with Colkett’s shot deflecting off the disappointing Siemann for a corner, before Solanke’s effort was kept out by Vickers.
Siemann then made another error, but Colkett again couldn’t capitalise, with the German centre-back then, at long last, being replaced by O’Connor. Arsenal also introduced Austin Lipman, featuring in his third game in four days, as they went all out for victory, but, even with Crowley operating almost as a second striker, they were still unable to breach the resolute Chelsea defence.
Some of Arsenal’s performances in this competition this season, particularly against Charlton Athletic and Everton, were mightily impressive, but once again, as they did in both the U21 Premier League Cup and the UEFA Youth League, Arsenal’s youngsters have fallen at the latter stages of a major cup competition.
U18 Premier League- Game 29
Fulham 1 Arsenal 4 (Dobson 16, Lipman 29, 59, Robinson 68)
By Jeorge Bird @ Motspur Park
A young Arsenal side comprised primarily of schoolboys eased to a comfortable victory over Fulham at a sunny Motspur Park earlier today. Arsenal’s main focus this week is tomorrow’s FA Youth Cup Semi-Final, 2nd Leg tie against Chelsea, but this emphatic win will be welcomed given some of the disappointing results that have preceded it at this level this campaign.
Austin Lipman, one of the more experienced players on show, found the net twice, with schoolboys George Dobson and Tyrell Robinson also on the scoresheet. With the majority of the Youth Cup squad left out, coach Carl Laraman handed debuts at this level to four players- Tolaji Bola, Owen Moore, Marcus Tabi and Michel Parker.
Arsenal also gave game time to a trialist goalkeeper, with Lipman, Elliot Wright and Arinse Uade the only full-time scholars to feature. Joshua Da Silva started, having made his debut as a substitute against Newcastle United. Kick-off was delayed by 45 minutes due to the Arsenal coach arriving late.
subs: Tabi (for Lipman), O. Moore (for Dobson), Parker (for Hinds). Not used: Huddart.
Fulham also named a very young side, with many of their players away at the Dallas Cup, but the majority of Arsenal’s youngsters possess plenty of experience at this level and they looked determined to make the most of that advantage in the early stages. The lively Robinson did well to win a corner, with Lipman seeing his shot saved from the resultant set-piece.
Robinson provided another example of the threat he poses to the opposition goal when he latched onto Dobson’s long pass and forced a good save from the Fulham goalkeeper. Uade had to be alert to cut out a cross at the other end, but Arsenal were largely dominant. They were rewarded when they took the lead through Dobson, who finished well with a shot that deflected in off the far post.
Arsenal didn’t stop there. Kaylen Hinds and Stephy Mavididi both shot over in quick succession, before Da Silva did well to find Lipman, whose shot was saved.
Da Silva, operating in the number 10 position, was beginning to become increasingly influential, and he shot wide, with right-back Aaron Eyoma also coming close. The game was effectively put beyond a struggling Fulham when Dobson crossed for Lipman, who finished from close range to make it 2-0.
Fulham threatened a little thereafter, with Arsenal’s goalkeeper having to make a couple of impressive saves, but Arsenal were always on top, a point that was emphasised when Lipman struck the crossbar with a fierce strike after being found by Hinds. The skilful Robinson then did well to find space for himself, but his subsequent shot was saved.
The second-half followed a similar pattern to the first, with Arsenal carving out numerous attacking opportunities. Hinds saw a shot saved after good work from Mavididi then Lipman made it 3-0 after pouncing upon a defensive mistake and finishing confidently.
Arsenal had some defending to do after that goal, with Fulham’s right-winger causing them considerable problems. Fulham pulled a goal back during that spell with a header from close range, with Arsenal then introducing Tabi and Owen Moore in place of Lipman and Dobson.
The final goal of the game followed almost immediately, with Wright playing one of his trademark long passes, which Robinson latched onto and then diverted into the net. There could have been even more goals for Arsenal, with Mavididi, Eyoma and Tabi all coming close. The game had long been won, however, and this result represents another important step in the development of these players.
Many of the youngsters on show today will form the bulk of the U18 squad for next season, and, on this evidence, some of them are very promising indeed. Dobson, despite still being a schoolboy himself, possesses good leadership qualities and was also one of the standout players today, whilst wingers Mavididi and Robinson were both very dangerous. Da Silva demonstrated glimpses that, in time, he could develop into a promising player, whilst the schoolboys that were brought on did not look at all out of place.
There are now just two league fixtures remaining at U18 level this season, against Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United, but, for now, all the attention is focused on tomorrow night’s Youth Cup tie at Emirates Stadium.
U21 Premier League- Game 19
Arsenal 0 Leicester City 4 (Hopper 6, Watson 41, 50, Cain 80)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Arsenal U21s suffered a deeply disappointing defeat to Leicester City in their penultimate home game of the season. Steve Gatting’s side, who were without several key players due to first-team and FA Youth Cup commitments, struggled to garner any sort of attacking momentum and didn’t register a shot on target until the second-half.
They struggled to break down a Leicester defence that was marshalled manfully by the experienced Republic of Ireland international Sean St Ledger, whilst their own defensive frailties were pounced upon all too easily by a determined visiting side. Arsenal’s league form at U21 level this season, particularly post-Christmas, has been rather alarming, with Gatting’s team winning just two games out of eleven.
The most concerning element is that Gatting, along with current U18s coach Carl Laraman, will still be in charge of Arsenal at this level next season, but it is hoped that the appointment of Andries Jonker as the club’s new Head of Youth Development will reduce the chances of results such as this occurring in the future.
Leicester were fully deserved of their win, but Arsenal’s play was painful to watch at times as some players struggled to make the requisite runs and others gave the ball away in dangerous areas. Their play in an attacking sense did improve a little following the introduction of Austin Lipman as a second-half substitute, but Leicester goalkeeper Adam Smith was barely tested throughout.
Arsenal were without several regulars at this level. Hector Bellerin is likely to be on the first-team bench against West Ham United tomorrow, whilst Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley, Julio Pleguezuelo and Jack Jebb were all left out with the second-leg of the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final against Chelsea in mind. Isaac Hayden, meanwhile, was missing through suspension.
subs: Lipman (for Maitland-Niles, 70), Kamara (for Iwobi, 70). Not used: Huddart, Siemann, Ormonde-Ottewill.
Arsenal’s start was sluggish and set the tone for the rest of the game. Alex Iwobi gave away a free-kick which was taken by Callum Elder. Matt Macey was on hand to gather, but it wasn’t long before the Arsenal goalkeeper was picking the ball out of the back of his net, with Tafari Moore struggling to deal with the considerable threat of Tom Hopper, who beat the full-back for pace and then beat Macey with a confident finish.
That was just the beginning. Leicester were putting Arsenal under pressure at every opportunity and Gatting’s side simply couldn’t cope. The visitors came close from a corner before Macey had to deal with two free-kicks in quick succession. The pressure was relentless, with Ryan Watson then seeing a shot deflected narrowly wide.
Watson came close again shortly afterwards, with Stefan O’Connor then having to make a well-timed intervention to prevent further damage. Arsenal couldn’t stem the overwhelming tide of Leicester attacks, however, and they were soon 2-0 down, with Watson being rewarded for his persistence.
The midfielder finished well after being found by Harry Panayiotou from a corner, with Arsenal leaving the field at half-time without having even come close to threatening the Leicester goal.
Arsenal appeared a little more determined after the interval, with Zak Ansah’s attempted pass being gathered by Smith, but mistakes continued to plague their game. Alfred Mugabo, who is set to be released in June, inadvertently directed the ball into the path of Hopper, who shot wide.
In an all too rare attacking move from Arsenal Jon Toral found Kristoffer Olsson, whose shot was just off target, but normal service resumed when Leicester made it 3-0. O’Connor committed a late challenge high up the pitch, but the referee waved play on and Leicester took full advantage, with Watson embarking on a mazy run through the Arsenal defence before beating Macey once more.
Watson then came close to claiming a hat-trick, but shot wide. Arsenal sought to change things a little, with Lipman and Glen Kamara being introduced. Kamara at least provided protection to the defence, something that had been glaringly absent beforehand, whilst Lipman worked hard and attempted to make things happen on the right flank.
Arsenal’s best move came when Olsson closed down St Ledger’s clearance and played in Thomas Eisfeld, who was on the bench at Wembley on Saturday. The German directed the ball into the path of Ansah, whose effort struck the crossbar. Leicester were always on top, though, and inflicted further damage when substitute Michael Cain capitalised on some woeful defending to make it 4-0. This had long been a bridge too far for the young Gunners.
It was a deeply disappointing way to end their first campaign at Boreham Wood, but the Youth Cup has certainly taken priority this week. That said, some of the players who aren’t eligible for that competition, such as Eisfeld, Olsson and Toral, were far from at their best here, and a similar team managed to dispatch of Manchester City last week.
Mugabo is strong but deploying him at left-back is to nobody’s benefit, whilst Ajayi will have to be far more consistent if he is to become a first-team squad member next season. Hayden, meanwhile, was sorely missed. If Arsenal manage to prevail over Chelsea in the Youth Cup on Thursday then this game will probably be largely forgotten, but losing by such a scoreline should not be acceptable for a club that places so much emphasis on youth development.
Wellington delivered an excellent performance as Murcia beat Lugo 3-1. The Brazilian scored twice before being withdrawn in the 84th minute. This was the first game in which the 21 year old has found the net this season, but he has certainly impressed in recent weeks since being elevated into the starting line-up.
Chuks Aneke was sent off in first-half stoppage time for elbowing Richard Stearman as Crewe Alexandra lost 2-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Joel Campbell started and was booked as Olympiacos beat Apollon Smirnis 1-0 in their final league fixture of the season.
Benik Afobe played the final eleven minutes and was booked during Sheffield Wednesday’s dramatic 3-3 draw with Blackburn Rovers. Goalkeeper Damian Martinez was an un-used substitute.
Johan Djourou played the whole game as Hamburg lost 2-1 to his former loan side Hannover, whilst Francis Coquelin wasn’t involved in Freiburg’s 2-0 win over Braunschweig.
Ju-Young Park was again not involved as Watford drew 2-2 with Millwall. Ignasi Miquel is unlikely to be involved when Leicester City take on Reading tomorrow night.
Injury meant that Zach Fagan didn’t feature in Boreham Wood’s 2-1 defeat to Whitehawk. The centre-back is set to return to Arsenal later this month. Josh Vickers didn’t feature in Canvey Island’s goalless draw with Hendon.
Daniel Boateng‘s Hibernian side didn’t have a fixture this weekend.
Hector Bellerin, Thomas Eisfeld and Jon Toral joined the first-team squad this morning for their final training session ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan Athletic.
Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky, who were classed as doubts for this fixture, all came through the workout unscathed and could be part of the squad tomorrow.
Mathieu Flamini is suspended, whilst Lukas Fabianski will start in goal. Abou Diaby continued to train individually, with Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Ryo all still unavailable. Serge Gnabry was not present, suggesting that the German winger is not yet fully recovered from the injury he suffered last week. Nicklas Bendtner is set to return to England on Monday.
Players in training today: Szczesny, Fabianski, Viviano, Sagna, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski, Giroud, Sanogo, Bellerin, Eisfeld, Toral, Kallstrom, Ramsey.
FA Youth Cup- Semi Final, 1st Leg
Chelsea 2 (Colkett 59, Kiwomya 66) Arsenal 1 (Akpom 56)
By Jeorge Bird @ Stamford Bridge
Arsenal U18s face an uphill struggle if they are to reach their first FA Youth Cup Final since 2009 after they were beaten by Chelsea in the first leg of their Semi-Final tie this evening.
The young Gunners took the lead courtesy of a fine strike from Chuba Akpom, but Chelsea levelled just three minutes later before Alex Kiwomya scored what could prove to be a crucial goal as he put the hosts ahead. As in several of the previous rounds, Arsenal were hugely reliant on goalkeeper Josh Vickers to keep the opposition at bay, but they struggled to fully function as an attacking force, with midfielder Gedion Zelalem particularly culpable.
Zelalem’s carelessness in possession led to Chelsea’s opener, which was scored by Charlie Colkett, and the German lost the ball again shortly afterwards, prompting his replacement by Jack Jebb. Julio Pleguezuelo and Ainsley Maitland-Niles did, however, come out of the game with some credit, along with Vickers and Akpom, although this was far from a vintage display from an Arsenal side who were at times swamped by Chelsea’s dominance in midfield.
The tie is not over, especially when the youth teams’ immaculate record at Emirates Stadium is taken into account, but coach Carl Laraman will want to see much more from his side next Thursday, with Arsenal having struggled to gain any sort of foothold in this encounter.
The team line-up was the expected one, with Zelalem being preferred over Jebb. In hindsight, that was perhaps the wrong decision to make.
subs: Jebb (for Zelalem, 66). Not used: Huddart, O’Connor, Dobson, Lipman.
Arsenal had some defending to do in the early stages, with Vickers being called into action for the first time as he gathered a cross from Fankaty Dabo.
Maitland-Niles, who has been so impressive recently, then did well to manoeuvre some space for himself at the other end, but he dragged his shot wide of the far post before Chelsea squandered an inviting opportunity when Colkett flicked the ball into the path of Izzy Brown, who made the mistake of electing to pass instead of going for goal, with Arsenal eventually clearing their lines.
Chelsea were dominant throughout the first-half, particularly in terms of their midfield play. Arsenal’s approach was rather stagnant in contrast, but most of the openings that they did create fell to Akpom. The striker struck a shot into the side-netting, before Alex Iwobi’s header was tipped over the crossbar for a corner.
Chelsea’s dominance continued after the interval, with the game suddenly becoming rather more open. Brown saw his shot held after Arsenal’s hesitancy saw them hustled out of possession, then Jordan Houghton shot over after Pleguezuelo’s header fell invitingly into his path.
Chelsea goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney then played the ball mistakenly into the path of Dan Crowley in front of goal, but the midfielder couldn’t capitalise. The intensity of the game had increased greatly, with Vickers then making a superb double save in quick succession to deny Colkett and Kiwomya.
Arsenal were struggling to create chances with any sort of regularity, and their usual brand of passing football was surprisingly absent, but what good openings they did muster came courtesy of Akpom, with the striker attempting a shot from a difficult angle which was saved.
Arsenal’s lack of ingenuity seemed set to cost them, but then they temporarily awoke from their slumber. Maitland-Niles played a perceptive pass straight into the path of Akpom, who beat Beeney with a well-placed finish. With the travelling Arsenal supporters jubilant and Akpom evidently delighted to have found the net, you forgot that this was a youth-team game, albeit just for a moment.
With their lead, albeit somewhat fortunately, intact, Arsenal were now faced with the task of seeing the game out for the remaining 34 minutes. Largely owing to the carelessness of Zelalem, they held out for just three minutes. Zelalem, not for the first or last time, lost possession, and, although Arsenal initially managed to clear the danger, the ball eventually fell to Colkett, who finished well to equalise.
Zelalem didn’t learn from his mistake, as he squandered possession again. Thankfully, this time the outcome wasn’t quite so damning, with Vickers earning his team-mate a reprieve as he denied Brown.
It was only a temporary respite, however, as Chelsea soon took the lead. The effective Ruben Loftus-Cheek clipped the ball forwards. Vickers kept out Dominic Solanke’s header, but the ball fell into the path of Kiwomya, whose overhead kick was enough to beat the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Jebb, not before time, was then introduced in place of Zelalem. The midfielder immediately got to work, playing a good pass into the path of his long-time colleague Akpom, who couldn’t quite get the ball under control.
Arsenal had threatened intermittently, but in the end they were perhaps thankful to depart Stamford Bridge with just a one-goal deficit. Right-back Ola Aina wasted a good chance following a quick breakaway, with Vickers then making two more excellent stops. The goalkeeper, along with fellow second-years Iwobi and Glen Kamara, will surely be rewarded with a professional contract at the end of the campaign.
Maitland-Niles sent an effort well wide in the closing stages, but Arsenal will be all too aware that, if they are to progress to the Final, it will require an immense improvement from tonight. They flickered only ever so often in an attacking sense, with Akpom impressing despite often receiving little support from the midfield, whilst the defensive frailties that seem to plague the club at all levels were once again in evidence here.
This was another example of Arsenal being somewhat overrun by a major side at youth level, with the defeat put into even further perspective by the fact that Chelsea were without arguably their most impressive starlet in Jeremie Boga.
Vickers, as he has been throughout this run, was outstanding, but he will need his team-mates to perform similar heroics in the second leg if they are to reach the Final against Fulham.