With the dust beginning to settle on last night’s frustrating FA Youth Cup exit at the hands of a spirited Everton team, time can now be taken to reflect on this season’s run in the competition, the lengthiest that the club has enjoyed for three seasons.
The best performance undoubtedly came in the 3rd Round as Newcastle United were swatted aside at Underhill, before Steve Gatting’s side showcased grit and determination to overcome Fulham in extra-time at the same venue last month. Even last night, for all the negative aspects of proceedings, there were some individual performances to savour, with both Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom demonstrating glimpses of their respective qualities, whilst winger Anthony Jeffrey was perhaps Arsenal’s most consistent performer over the course of the three games, tormenting opponents with his potent blend of pace and power.
It now seems certain that Jeffrey will be offered a professional contract at the end of the season on the back of his performances in this competition, although the same could not be said of centre-back Zach Fagan, who was at fault for two of the goals conceded last night and, for all his commendable composure whilst in possession, he has a tendency to commit costly errors at crucial times.
Hector Bellerin, meanwhile, was not at his best last night but was impressive in the two previous fixtures, whilst Isaac Hayden demonstrated both his versatility and his leadership qualities, popping up in an attacking midfield role in the latter stages against Everton, and teeing up Gnabry for a sublime finish.
It is disappointing that a prolonged run in the competition, and with it a potential fixture at Emirates Stadium, has eluded this crop of youngsters, but there remains the chance of silverware in the NextGen Series, whilst many of the players on show last night have featured somewhat regularly for the U21s this season.
The likes of Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Jack Jebb, Alfred Mugabo, Austin Lipman and, not least, Akpom will still be eligible for next year’s assault on the trophy, although the early stages of the campaign may take place in less familiar surroundings with Barnet poised to depart Underhill at the end of the season.
The U21s and U18s still have several league fixtures to fulfill for the remainder of the campaign, meaning that all is not lost for Arsenal’s youngsters despite last night’s defeat.