In profile: The 44 players who contributed to Arsenal U23s’ Premier League 2 title success

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Arsenal U23s were crowned Premier League 2 champions on Friday night after seeing off West Ham United at London Stadium and it has been a superb season of development for Steve Gatting’s side.

In total, 44 players featured in the league for the U23s this season, and here is an assessment of the contribution that each of them made to the title success.

VLAD DRAGOMIR (20 games, 6 goals)

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Dragomir started the season on the fringes of the U23 setup but he ended it having made more appearances at this level than any other player.

The Romanian, naturally an attacking midfielder, filled in well in several positions, including at left wing-back and as a striker at times, while he weighed in with six goals, including a brace at home to West Ham.

JORDI OSEI-TUTU (18 games, 2 goals)

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Another player who developed extremely well this campaign, Osei-Tutu hadn’t made a competitive appearance for the U23s going into the season but soon established himself as a regular and provided a frequent attacking threat.

The former Reading defender also showed signs of improvement defensively and relished playing as a right wing-back when Arsenal deployed a 3-4-2-1 system.

JOSH DASILVA (17 games, 1 goal)

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One of the most impressive performers in this side, the powerful midfielder ended the campaign by captaining the side.

Providing the perfect link between defence and attack, Dasilva helped Arsenal to retain possession and initiate attacks, while he also made good use of his physical strength.

TOLAJI BOLA (16 games)

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Bola had to be patient for opportunities in the first half of the campaign but he was a regular once others headed out on loan.

Despite being vulnerable defensively, he regularly pushed forwards and weighed in with some vital assists, including two in the title-clinching win at West Ham.

ZECH MEDLEY (13 games)

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Medley made the step up from U18 football to become a regular in the U23 team, making good use of his tall frame.

The centre-back demonstrated his composure in possession and worked well with different defensive partners.

EDDIE NKETIAH (13 games, 12 goals)

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Although he has been on the fringes of the first-team squad for much of the campaign, Nketiah still featured fairly regularly for the U23s, and, unsurprisingly, finished as the team’s top scorer with 12 goals.

Amongst the highlights was a brace in the 4-3 win over Manchester City at Emirates Stadium early in the campaign.

JULIO PLEGUEZUELO (12 games, 1 goal)

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The long-serving Spaniard left for Gimnastic de Tarragona on loan in January but before that he made a major contribution to Arsenal’s title-winning campaign.

Pleguezuelo’s late equaliser in the 3-3 draw at home to Derby County in December was very important and it is fitting that a player who has featured in so many games at this level was able to play a part in the title win.

JOE WILLOCK (12 games, 1 goal)

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Like Nketiah and Reiss Nelson, Willock has been in and out of the first-team picture, which limited his game time with the U23s.

The midfielder did still produce some encouraging displays for the development side, though, and notably hit the winner at home to Chelsea.

REISS NELSON (11 games, 9 goals)

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Nelson has racked up the appearances at first-team level in various competitions, although his contribution for the U23s this season shouldn’t be overlooked.

Widely seen as Arsenal’s standout youngster, he scored six goals in four games during a phenomenal start to the campaign.

EMILE SMITH ROWE (10 games, 1 goal)

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Injured affected Smith Rowe’s campaign at times but when fit the England youth international produced some excellent displays as he stepped up from the U23s with ease.

Possessing flair in abundance, he was on the scoresheet in the win at Sunderland in January.

MARCUS MCGUANE (9 games, 2 goals)

The Hale End product left for Barcelona B in a high-profile January transfer but prior to that he was heavily involved for Arsenal at U23 level.

McGuane, who started the campaign at centre-back before moving into his preferred central midfield position, hit a brace in the defeat away to Everton.

 

CHARLIE GILMOUR (9 games, 3 goals)

It was a frustrating year for the Scottish midfielder at times as, in his first season as a full-time U23 player, he often found his game time very limited.

As the campaign wore on, however, Gilmour became increasingly involved, and he scored three goals, including the important strike to see off Swansea City in the penultimate game of the campaign.

DEYAN ILIEV (8 games)

After two years out injured, the Macedonian goalkeeper finally returned to the fray this season and he demonstrated notable signs of improvement.

Iliev made some impressive stops, although he missed the title win at West Ham after being kicked in the face against Swansea.

JEFF REINE-ADELAIDE (8 games, 1 goal)

The talented midfielder, although part of the first-team squad, was a key part of the U23 side in the early part of the season and scored in the victory over Manchester United in January before heading off on loan to Angers.

TYREECE JOHN-JULES (8 games, 4 goals)

A hard-working forward, John-Jules adapted very quickly to U23 football as he found the net on four occasions, which included a brace against Sunderland.

There was a low point, as he was sent off away to Leicester City, but the youngster bounced back to end the campaign strongly.

XAVIER AMAECHI (8 games)

A winger who is very highly regarded at Arsenal, Amaechi broke into the U23 setup during the campaign and gained plenty of playing time.

Although still rather raw, he demonstrated some tantalising glimpses of his ability and helped the side greatly in the latter stages of the season.

FOLARIN BALOGUN (7 games, 1 goal)

Another first-year who became involved with the U23s, Balogun’s last gasp equaliser as a substitute away to Liverpool gave Arsenal some much-needed momentum.

It is anticipated that the striker will feature more prominently at this level next season.

 

AARON EYOMA (6 games)

The winger has long been deemed surplus to requirements by Arsenal and only featured when many other players weren’t available, but he can still be said to have played a part in a title win in his final season at the club.

CHUBA AKPOM (6 games, 2 goals)

A veteran of U23 football (or equivalent), Akpom has played half a century of games at this level and he scored twice for the second-string this season prior to joining Sint-Truidense on loan.

MATT MACEY (6 games)

Another player who has been a long servant at U23 level, Macey didn’t feature prominently this season due to his first-team commitments, where he was often training with the senior squad.

BEN SHEAF (6 games)

Composed in possession, Sheaf continued his transformation from central-midfielder to centre-back and produced some fine displays before signing for Stevenage on loan.

JOSEPH OLOWU (6 games)

The centre-back flitted between the U18 and U23 squads, and temporarily lost his place in the starting lineup for the latter age group before regaining it late on in the campaign.

YASSIN FORTUNE (5 games)

The Frenchman was on the periphery of proceedings this season, as demonstrated by the fact that he was left out of the squad to face West Ham, and he seems to have no future at the club.

 

KONSTANTINOS MAVROPANOS (5 games)

Despite being a first-team player, the January arrival was given plenty of game time at U23 level and produced some impressive displays.

HUGO KETO (4 games)

A talented goalkeeper, it was a difficult season for the Finland youth international as his playing time was limited.

AINSLEY MAITLAND-NILES (4 games)

The versatile youngster was involved with the U23s early in the season before truly establishing himself in the senior squad.

KRYSTIAN BIELIK (4 games)

Bielik endured an injury-ravaged campaign which continued after he joined Walsall on loan in January.

TAFARI MOORE (3 games)

Another player who seems to have no future at the club, the right-back was involved fleetingly before signing for Wycombe Wanderers on loan midway through the campaign.

RYAN HUDDART (3 games)

The goalkeeper was involved at the start of the season but hasn’t featured since September despite currently being in training.

JOAO VIRGINIA (3 games)

An exciting prospect, the Portuguese goalkeeper adapted well to U23 football and could soon be a regular at this level.

TOBI OMOLE (2 games)

The defender was on the periphery of the squad earlier in the season before falling out of favour.

TRAE COYLE (2 games)

Surprisingly saw his playing time at this level limited, but the winger should be involved more next season.

DONYELL MALEN (2 games)

The striker left for PSV Eindhoven in January having been involved in the U23 squad early in the season.

JACK WILSHERE (2 games)

The first-team midfielder hit the headlines after being sent off against Manchester City.

FRANCIS COQUELIN (2 games)

A former youth player at Arsenal himself, Coquelin was involved with the U23s to build up his fitness.

ROB HOLDING (2 games)

Another first-team player who gained playing time, albeit fleetingly, at U23 level.

ROBBIE BURTON (1 game)

The talented Welsh midfielder will hope for further appearances next campaign.

JOSH BENSON (1 game)

It is anticipated that the Hale End product will leave this summer.

DANIEL BALLARD (1 game)

The U18s defender played just one game for the U23s, but he did score against Tottenham Hotspur.

VONTAE DALEY-CAMPBELL (1 game)

The powerful right-back made his U23s debut away to Liverpool.

MATHIEU DEBUCHY (1 game)

The most senior player to feature at this level this season.

KIERAN GIBBS (1 game)

Played 45 minutes at start of the season before leaving for West Bromwich Albion.

CALUM CHAMBERS (1 game)

Yet another first-team player who was given a runout.

COHEN BRAMALL (1 game)

The left-back featured once before his ill-fated loan move to Birmingham City.

MADE THE BENCH BUT DIDN’T PLAY: Daniel Barden, James Olayinka, Harry Clarke, Matt Smith, Zak Swanson.

U23 PLAYERS THAT DIDN’T PLAY THIS SEASON: Gedion Zelalem, Chiori Johnson, Marc Bola*, Stephy Mavididi*, Kelechi Nwakali*

*= On loan

 

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Report – John-Jules hits winner as Arsenal U18s prepare for FA Youth Cup final with win over Swansea

U18 Premier League

Arsenal 2 (Coyle 51, John-Jules (pen) 62) Swansea City 1 (Price 18)

Tyreece John-Jules hit the winner from the penalty spot as Arsenal U18s warmed up for the FA Youth Cup final against Chelsea by coming from behind to beat Swansea City 2-1 at London Colney today.

Coach Kwame Ampadu was able to call upon a rather strong side, with John-Jules, Xavier Amaechi and Danny Ballard, who were on the bench for the U23s in their title success against West Ham United last night, all starting, along with Trae Coyle and Robbie Burton.

Meanwhile, U15 defender Mazeed Ogungbo earned his first callup at this level on the bench.

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Subs: M. Smith (for Burton, 20), McEneff (for Coyle, 65), Clarke (for Daley-Campbell, 78). Not used: Okonkwo, Ogungbo.

Surprisingly, given that they fielded such an impressive team, Arsenal fell behind, with Thomas Price putting Swansea ahead in the 18th minute.

Matters then went from bad to worse for Arsenal as Robbie Burton had to go off and be replaced by Matt Smith, but the young Gunners eventually managed to pull level after the break when Bukayo Saka found Coyle, who finished well.

Arsenal grew in confidence and were at a numerical advantage when Joe Lewis was dismissed for two bookable offences, with John-Jules’ penalty proving to be the difference between the two sides.

Kwame Amapdu’s side have three league games remaining, but all focus is now firmly on the double-legged Youth Cup final against Chelsea, which gets underway on Friday.

Report – Arsenal U23s win Premier League 2 title as Nelson and Nketiah help see off West Ham

Premier League 2

West Ham 1 (Quina 82) Arsenal 3 (Nelson 20, Nketiah 27, 70)

By Jeorge Bird @London Stadium

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After a season of hard graft, Arsenal U23s won the Premier League 2 title at London Stadium tonight and it seemed only fitting that Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah played major parts in proceedings.

The pair have progressed extremely well this season to the extent that they are now on the cusp of the first-team squad, but they dropped back down to the U23s tonight to help Arsenal secure the title at this level for the first time since 1990.

Arsenal knew a win would be enough for them to finish top and they managed to prevail comfortably in the end, with Nelson on the scoresheet and the prolific Nketiah hitting a brace.

The young Gunners could have had more goals but, although West Ham reduced the deficit through a fine Domingos Quina goal late on, Arsenal always looked likely to see out the win and so it proved, with the final whistle sparking jubilant celebrations amongst the players, even though they weren’t presented with the trophy on this occasion.

Arsenal were able to call upon Joe Willock in addition to Nelson and Nketiah, but Konstantinos Mavropanos remained absent due to injury, while goalkeeper Deyan Iliev was still sidelined as a consequence of receiving a kick in the face against Swansea City.

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Subs: Gilmour (for Dragomir, 60), John-Jules (for Nelson, 86), Amaechi (for Smith Rowe, 86). Not used: Keto, Ballard. 

In front of a small crowd in East London, Arsenal were determined to open the scoring as quickly as possible and Nketiah was typically lively as he demonstrated his excellent close control before his subsequent effort was saved by Nathan Trott.

Jordi Osei-Tutu, who has played a pivotal part in Arsenal’s title success, had to make an important block, but most of the action was occurring at the other end of the pitch, where Nelson was beginning to wreak havoc.

The playmaker, operating in his preferred number ten position, managed to burst past the West Ham defence but his shot surprisingly lacked conviction and went wide.

West Ham briefly responded with a spell of possession but Arsenal remained in control and they soon took the lead with Tolaji Bola bursting down the left flank and crossing for Nelson, who finished well.

Seven minutes later Nketiah made it 2-0 with a neat finish and that appeared to be that as far as both the game and title were concerned.

Nketiah and the impressive Emile Smith Rowe both had efforts saved before Joao Virginia, in for Iliev, made an excellent stop to preserve his clean sheet for Arsenal.

Arsenal should have added a third before the break when Nelson dribbled past Trott but, instead of going for goal himself, the youngster instead cut the ball back for Nketiah, who somehow managed to hit the crossbar from close range.

In the second half Arsenal continued to push forwards, with Willock doing well to create space for himself prior to having an effort saved.

Charlie Gilmour, whose goal against Swansea was vital in Arsenal’s title quest, replaced Vlad Dragomir, while West Ham substitute Anthony Scully lasted just ten minutes before succumbing to injury.

Arsenal then put the game beyond doubt and it was Nketiah who applied the finishing touch again following further good work from Nelson, with Josh Dasilva also involved in the build-up.

West Ham did reduce the deficit when the talented Quina finished emphatically past Virginia following a well-worked move, but it did little to alter the overall outcome of the game.

Arsenal sent on Xavier Amaechi and Tyreece John-Jules in the closing stages and the young Gunners had a goal ruled out for offside but it mattered little as shortly afterwards the final whistle blew and their dominance of the division was confirmed.

Just two years ago Arsenal were promoted from Division 2 and now they are champions of the top tier.

It is a fantastic achievement and, in addition to the players, the coaching staff, including Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman deserve immense credit, especially given that there was some skepticism surrounding their credentials when they took charge.

This is undoubtedly a very talented group of Arsenal players – Nelson, Nketiah and Willock are close to the first-team, while Dasilva, Osei-Tutu, Dragomir and Gilmour have also been involved with the senior squad in some capacity this season.

Then there is the next generation, with the likes of Smith Rowe, John-Jules and Amaechi all very exciting talents.

Many members of this squad have developed very well this campaign and it is now hoped that they will receive opportunities to impress in the first-team in due course.

It is rather inevitable that this group will be broken up next season, with some players hopefully involved with the first-team and others going on loan, but this is a time to be very excited about the Arsenal youth system, especially with there being the possibility of further trophies this season in the form of the Premier League International Cup and the FA Youth Cup.

Academies will ultimately be judged on getting players into the first-team but for now we should simply enjoy what has been a remarkable season at youth level, and one that isn’t quite finished just yet.

Arsenal U23s eager to win the title at West Ham tonight

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It is already a significant day for Arsenal Football Club but it could also prove to be notable for another reason, with the Gunners’ U23 side having the opportunity to clinch the league title tonight.

Arsenal have not won the U23 league or equivalent since 1990 and a victory away to West Ham United at London Stadium will end that wait, although there is still a strong possibility that they could be crowned champions afterwards if other results go their way.

Steve Gatting’s side have played some excellent, free-flowing football at times this season and will certainly be worthy champions if indeed they do manage to win the title.

Goalkeeper Deyan Iliev should be fit to face West Ham despite being kicked in the head against Swansea last week, although Konstantinos Mavropanos is doubtful due to injury.

Arsenal may also have to cope without some or all of Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson or Joe Willock, who could be needed for the first-team against the same opponents this weekend, but Gatting should still be able to field a strong side.

There are further trophies up for grabs for Arsenal at youth level this season, with the club through to the finals of both the Premier League International Cup and the FA Youth Cup.

Winning the league would certainly be special, however, and it would be testament to the development that many of these players have undergone throughout the course of the season.

Right-back Jordi Osei-Tutu, for instance, has gone from a rookie to a regular, while Josh Dasilva has been a powerhouse in midifeld and Vlad Dragomir has also improved immensely.

Matters took a slight turn for the worse following an exodus of players on loan in January, but Arsenal have managed to recover, with the likes of Xavier Amaechi, Tyreece John-Jules and Folarin Balogun all adapting to this level with ease.

Now it is time to complete the job, and, based on how they have performed to this point, you would expect Arsenal to prevail.

Arsenal winger Jay Beckford on trial with Bolton Wanderers

Arsenal winger Jay Beckford is on trial at Bolton Wanderers as he looks to earn a permanent deal.

Beckford featured for Bolton’s U23 side today in their 3-0 defeat to Birmingham City and will hope that he impressed sufficiently to be offered a professional contract.

The 18-year-old, who can also play as a central-midfielder or a striker if required, will be released by Arsenal when his scholarship deal expires at the end of the season.

Beckford joined Arsenal from Leyton Orient as a schoolboy three years ago but he has often struggled to command a regular starting berth at U18 level and has been unable to break into the U23 squad.

This season Beckford has made six appearances for the U18s without scoring or providing an assist.

Fellow second-year scholar Josh Benson is also set to be let go, while defender Tobi Omole could be released.

It seems likely that Danny Ballard, Robbie Burton and Dominic Thompson, who have helped Arsenal reach the final of the FA Youth Cup, will all get professional deals.

Matt Smith scores penalty and six schoolboys feature as depleted Arsenal U18s beat Southampton

U18 Premier League

Southampton 0 Arsenal 1 (M. Smith 61 (pen))

An Arsenal U18 team deprived of many of their standout players managed to secure an impressive 1-0 victory away to Southampton in a rearranged league fixture today, with Matt Smith scoring a penalty.

None of the players who started the emphatic FA Youth Cup victory over Blackpool on Monday were involved on this occasion, but some of the substitutes from that game, including Smith and Trae Coyle, were called upon.

Schoolboys Matthew Dennis, Miguel Azeez, Ben Cottrell and Armstrong Okoflex all started but second years Josh Benson and Jay Beckford, who are set to be released this summer, weren’t involved.

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Subs: Flaherty (for Cottrell, 69), Martin (for Okoflex, 77). Not used: T. Smith, Matthews.

Southampton named a strong side, including Michael Obafemi, who featured in the Premier League earlier in the season.

The hosts had an opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half but Arsenal goalkeeper Daniel Barden reacted well to keep out Jonathan Afolabi’s effort.

Arsenal were impressive in the second period and they eventually went ahead through a penalty of their own, with Smith scoring from the spot.

Schoolboys Stan Flaherty and Josh Martin received run-outs and it turned out to be a good afernoon for Arsenal, who are now five points ahead of Southampton in second.

Chelsea may have been crowned champions but Arsenal have an opportunity for glory against the Blues in the FA Youth Cup, while they are also determined to finish strongly in the league.

Report – Smith Rowe superb as five-star Arsenal U18s thrash Blackpool to reach FA Youth Cup final

FA Youth Cup semi-final, second leg

Arsenal 5 (Balogun 18, Ballard 20, Burton 23, Smith Rowe 34 (pen), M. Smith 90) Blackpool 0 (Arsenal win 7-2 on aggregate)

By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium

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Arsenal U18s made it through to the FA Youth Cup final for the first time in nine years with a 5-0 demolition of Blackpool at Emirates Stadium tonight as Emile Smith Rowe produced a midfield masterclass.

With the first leg having finished 2-2, Arsenal knew they had much work to do in the second leg in order to get to the final but they managed to do that, with Smith Rowe very influential.

The extremely talented youngster, deployed in the number ten position, found the net himself from the penalty spot following a superb burst forwards, whilst Folarin Balogun, Danny Ballard, Robbie Burton and substitute Matt Smith also managed to get on the scoresheet as the resilience that Blackpool demonstrated in the initial tie evaporated.

Arsenal will now face Chelsea, who have won each of the last four editions of this competition, in a two-legged final, but for now Kwame Ampadu’s side can reflect on a dominant display which, especially in the first half, was a joy to watch.

Reiss Nelson, as expected, wasn’t involved, whilst Trae Coyle was surprisingly omitted from the starting lineup, with James Olayinka deployed in central midfield. Dominic Thompson, meanwhile, started at left-back with Tobi Omole not involved.

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Olayinka-Burton

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John Jules

Subs: Saka (for Amaechi), Coyle (for Smith Rowe), M. Smith (for Balogun). Not used: Okonkwo, Olowu.

Blackpool had put up a terrific fight in the first leg but it soon became apparent that Arsenal, with home advantage, were going to be too strong for them on this occasion.

Arsenal were dominant in the early stages, with the lively Burton hitting an effort over the crossbar.

Xavier Amaechi, who enjoyed an excellent game, then started to cause all manner of problems for the Blackpool defence with his searing speed and the winger swung in a cross which picked out Folarin Balogun, who shot wide.

Balogun, who frequently sought to drift inside from the right flank, then rattled the woodwork after he was located by powerful full-back Vontae Daley-Campbell, and it seemed only a matter of time before Arsenal took the lead.

Balogun and Tyreece John-Jules both had shots saved in quick succession but then Arsenal did make it 1-0 as Smith Rowe initiated the move, finding Amaechi, who played in Balogun again.

On this occasion the attacker made no mistake as he headed home in the 18th minute to put Arsenal ahead both on the night and in the tie.

Daley-Campbell shot wide and then it was 2-0, with Amaechi the architect again as his corner was headed home emphatically by captain Ballard.

Blackpool were crumbling and Arsenal took full advantage as Burton made it 3-0 with a neat finish following further good work from the influential Smith Rowe.

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That appeared to be the tie over, but Arsenal were eager to continue to dominate and Balogun almost scored again following an intricate team move but his effort lacked conviction on this occasion.

Arsenal’s quick movement and passing saw them continue to thrive and Dominic Thompson, up from left-back, hit the side-netting after Amaechi played the ball into his path.

Then came the most memorable moment of the match as Smith Rowe embarked on a tremendous run past several Blackpool players.

Had Smith Rowe not been hauled down it could have resulted in a spectacular goal, but as it transpired a penalty was awarded and the starlet stepped up to take it himself, making no mistake as Arsenal went 4-0 ahead.

Blackpool threatened intermittently in the second half, with Joao Virginia having to claim a cross, but Arsenal were still firmly in control of proceedings.

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Smith Rowe, so elegant in possession, played a delightful ball to Amaechi, but the latter’s effort was saved.

Burton then found John-Jules but the striker, who is usually impressive in front of goal, was unable to score.

Arsenal brought on Bukayo Saka and later Trae Coyle in place of Amaechi and Smith Rowe and they continued to threaten even without the services of two of their standout players.

Blackpool’s chances of securing a shock win had long since diminished and their misery was compounded when Jack Newton was given a second yellow card for hauling back Balogun.

Smith came on for Balogun and the midfielder, who has trained with the first-team recently, managed to add further gloss to the scoreline in the closing stages from close range, with fellow substitute Coyle playing a clever no-look pass in the build up.

It is important to take the standard of opposition into account, but this was still an excellent display from Arsenal, with Smith Rowe and Amaechi especially standing out.

The likes of Burton, Balogun and James Olayinka can also be pleased with their displays and the overall team performance deserves much credit.

Defeating a highly regarded Chelsea team will be no easy task, but Arsenal will be in determined mood and if Smith Rowe can replicate this performance then the Youth Cup could be heading back to north London.