FA Youth Cup 4th Round
Arsenal 2 Fulham 1 (a.e.t.)
By Jeorge Bird @ Underhill Stadium
An impressive goal deep into stoppage time from substitute Austin Lipman proved the difference in this enthralling FA Youth Cup tie at Underhill on Tuesday night between Arsenal and Fulham.
Arsenal had taken the lead in the first-half through the sprightly Anthony Jeffrey, but were pegged back when Muamer Tankovic capitalised on poor defending to level proceedings, with Fulham then taking the upper hand after both Jeffrey and Serge Gnabry, on his first appearance in two months, went off injured. Lipman’s strike, however, ensured Arsenal’s progression into the Fifth Round of the competition, where they will host either Everton or Port Vale.
Gnabry for the injured Jon Toral was the only change that coach Steve Gatting made to the side that comfortably dispatched of Newcastle United in the previous round, but there were alterations on the bench from that fixture, with Glen Kamara and Tarum Dawkins coming into the squad in place of Leander Siemann and Jordan Brown.
Fulham’s star turn was Tankovic, but the most familiar name on their team-sheet was that of Moussa Dembele. The winger is not of any relation to the Tottenham Hotspur player, but he did register the game’s first meaningful attempt when he shot wide in the opening stages. Arsenal responded with a swift break up-field, with players taking it in turns to take touches as steadily crafted as flicks of a paintbrush. Jack Jebb beat an opponent with ease before sliding in the advancing Jeffrey, who dragged his effort well wide.
That same combination reaped dividends just a minute later, however, as Jebb’s through ball again found Jeffrey, who this time slotted home to open the scoring and render even more preposterous the club’s reluctance to offer him a professional contract. The rampaging Hector Bellerin sought to make it 2-0, but his effort lacked conviction, before, at the other end, Deyan Iliev did well to hold a testing free-kick.
Bellerin came close before Gnabry had a shot cleared off the line, and Jebb shot straight at Fulham goalkeeper Billy Granger when clear on goal. Fulham were a threat on the counter-attack, but Arsenal were largely in control of proceedings, with Gnabry fizzing a shot just wide of the far post following an excellent piece of control from lone striker Chuba Akpom.
Zach Fagan’s blushes were spared after his hashed clearance bounced to Dembele, but thankfully the Fulham player’s effort went wide, as did another effort from Gnabry just prior to the interval.
Arsenal had evidently been the dominant force in the opening period, but Fulham began to wrestle control of proceedings early in the second half, with Tankovic levelling the scores after shrugging off two Arsenal players and shooting hard and low past Iliev.
Suddenly, things were not going the way of the Gunners. Akpom just failed to connect with a cross from Jeffrey, with Alfred Mugabo coming close from the resultant corner. Tankovic came close to doubling his tally, before Bellerin made a superb block to maintain parity. By this stage, both sides were beginning to tire considerably, with Jeffrey pulling his hamstring whilst attempting to make a run up-field, prompting Lipman’s introduction.
The hard-working attacker, stationed on the right-flank, immediately added a greater degree of incisiveness to Arsenal’s attack with some sharp runs, but Gnabry should have done better on two occasions when well placed in front of goal. The German was then also withdrawn after picking up a knock, with Alex Iwobi coming on for his Youth Cup debut.
The game was now real end-to-end stuff, with Lipman teeing up Akpom, who shot just wide, with Isaac Hayden all the while making a series of heroic blocks to ensure defeat in normal time was avoided. Iliev also played his part, making a stunning save from close range, and the Macedonian made another fine stop in between efforts at the other end from Kristoffer Olsson and Akpom.
Little happened in the opening period of extra time, but, early in the second, Lipman scored in what proved to be the game’s decisive moment. Following a swift attacking move, probably the best that Arsenal had constructed all evening, the England youth international took one swipe at the ball and watched tentatively as it flashed towards goal. Then it nestled in the net and mass celebrations ensued amongst the Arsenal players, with Hayden commendably reminding them that there were still 12 minutes of extra-time left to play.
Kamara also emerged off the bench and helped Arsenal to retain possession late on, but Arsenal still pushed for a third, with Olsson, Iwobi and Akpom all coming close to extending the lead. Fulham threatened again in the dying embers, but it was too little, too late, and Lipman had secured Arsenal a place in the next round, the first time that the club have progressed beyond the Fourth Round since they last won the competition in 2009.
Deyan Iliev-7- Made two stunning saves to prevent defeat late in normal time. Kicking remains suspect.
Hector Bellerin-8- Frequently rampaged forward down the right flank and is improving defensively.
Zach Fagan-6- Largely composed, one poor back-pass could have proven costly.
Isaac Hayden-8- Made all manner of last-ditch tackles and impressive blocks, leading the side with distinction.
Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill- 5- Didn’t possess his usual attacking threat and a little lapse defensively.
Alfred Mugabo-7- Squirmed his way out of difficult situations and won the ball back well.
Kristoffer Olsson-6- Not as heavily involved as on previous occasions, but showed class when on the ball.
Anthony Jeffrey-8-Arsenal’s main attacking outlet until being forced off injured.
Jack Jebb-7- An improved showing from the last round, he suffered with cramp late on.
Serge Gnabry-7- Not his strongest showing and decidedly rusty, but showed flashes of brilliance.
Chuba Akpom-6- Fought hard for the ball all evening and found the net late on only to be ruled out for offside.
Austin Lipman (for Jeffrey, 64)- 8- The match-winner, and fully deserved after an excellent cameo.
Alex Iwobi (for Gnabry, 76)- 7- Bright and direct, he also tracked back well when needed.
Glen Kamara (for Mugabo, 109)- 6- Demonstrated his penchant for retaining possession effectively.
Not used: Josh Vickers, Tarum Dawkins.