FA Youth Cup semi-final, first leg
Blackpool 2 (Sumner 44, Jacobson 74) Arsenal 2 (John-Jules 31, Amaechi 64)
Arsenal still have much work to do if they are to reach the FA Youth Cup final for the first time in nine years after they were held to a 2-2 draw away to spirited Blackpool side tonight in the first leg of their semi-final.
The young Gunners twice took the lead, through Tyreece John-Jules and later Xavier Amaechi, but were pegged back on both occasions and Trae Coyle also missed a penalty
Arsenal evidently missed the class of the injured Emile Smith Rowe, who excelled in previous rounds, but they still have a good chance to progress when the sides meet again at Emirates Stadium on April 16.
Coach Kwame Ampadu made four alterations to the side that overcame Colchester United in the previous round.
Schoolboy Arthur Okonkwo started in goal with Joao Virginia on international duty, while Tobi Omole came in for Dominic Thompson at left-back.
In midfield James Olayinka replaced Smith Rowe, with John-Jules returning to take the place of Bukayo Saka.
Subs: Barden, Olowu, Clarke, Saka, M. Smith.
The opening exchanges were rather uneventful but it soon became apparent that Blackpool were no pushovers, with the hosts enjoying some impressive spells of possession.
Fin Sinclair-Smith was starting to cause problems for the Arsenal defence and on one occasion the Blackpool player forced a save from Okonkwo with the first shot on target, which came 26 minutes into the game.
Proceedings then started to open up a little, and Arsenal eventually managed to take the lead, with John-Jules doing well to create space for himself before finishing cleverly through the legs of Blackpool goalkeeper Craig Thordarson.
That goal gave Arsenal an injection of confidence and they quickly sought to double their advantage, although Folarin Balogun could only shoot wide.
John-Jules then tried his luck again, with the attacker’s effort hitting the side-netting.
Blackpool, to their credit, refused to be disheartened, and they were rewarded for their persistence just before half-time when Dylan Sumner’s half-volley got the better of Okonkwo.
Having equalised prior to the break, Blackpool were determined to go in front early in the second half and Sinclair-Smith continued to be a nuisance with his trickery.
Arsenal found themselves under increased pressure and Okonkwo had to react quickly to make a save.
Ampadu then shuffled his pack, with Saka, who has been so impressive in this competition, and Matt Smith both entering the fray.
Shortly after those changes were made Arsenal took the lead as Amaechi scored following an excellent counter-attack.
Arsenal then had the chance to add some security to their lead when they were awarded a penalty, but Thordarson saved the spot-kick from Coyle and the young Gunners would go on to regret that miss.
Shortly afterwards Thordarson made another smart stop, this time to thwart Saka, and then Blackpool pulled themselves level for the second time in the game as captain Ben Jacobson capitalised after Okonkwo fumbled a cross.
Blackpool sought a third goal, with Sinclair-Smith coming close, before Arsenal pushed forwards in the closing stages but the game ended 2-2 and this tie will be settled in London next month.