FA Youth Cup 3rd Round
Arsenal 5 (Maitland-Niles 15, Iwobi 23, 55, Crowley 33, Jebb 72) Torquay United 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
It was always expected that Arsenal would manage to overcome Torquay United and reach the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup, but that they did so with such ruthlessness and professionalism will have been of great satisfaction to coach Carl Laraman.
Dan Crowley, who was ushered into the side at the expense of Jack Jebb, was Arsenal’s creator-in-chief for much of the evening, with the audaciously talented midfielder creating several chances for his team-mates and scoring a fine goal of his own just after the half-hour mark.
By that point Arsenal were already two goals to the good courtesy of strikes from wingers Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alex Iwobi, and the latter, along with substitute Jebb, would also score in the second-half to complete a comprehensive victory.
Arsenal have not won a match in the U18 Premier League since the opening day of the season, but they named their strongest available line-up here, with Josh Vickers and Austin Lipman being included in the squad despite currently being on youth loans with Canvey Island and Boreham Wood respectively.
It was thought that Crowley, given his good form for the U18s recently, would be included from the offset, but it was something of a surprise that Jebb was omitted, whilst Stefan O’Connor passed a late fitness test to start at centre-back alongside Leander Siemann.
subs: Lipman (for Maitland-Niles, 46), Jebb (for Iwobi, 64), Mugabo (for O’Connor, 83). Not used: Huddart, Uade.
Torquay were backed by an unexpectedly large set of supporters, but Arsenal’s technical superiority was immediately evident, with Crowley seeing much of the ball in the opening stages. The 16 year old, who was the victim of several over-zealous challenges throughout the evening, did well to find Iwobi in space, but the latter shot over.
Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill then delivered a typically inch-perfect cross from the left flank, but Chuba Akpom, who is not scoring as freely as he was last season, couldn’t get a decisive touch on the ball. Crowley and Maitland-Niles then went close in quick succession as Arsenal cranked up the pressure, and, after several further half-chances, the opening goal eventually came on the quarter of an hour mark.
Tafari Moore swung a cross in from the right, Maitland-Niles latched onto it, and the winger dispatched an emphatic strike past the stranded Daniel Lavercombe to open the scoring. It was soon 2-0 and Maitland-Niles was involved again as his cross was flicked on by Glen Kamara, with the ball eventually falling to Iwobi, who finished well.
For all their dominance up until this point, the tempo of Arsenal’s play evidently dropped a little after they doubled their advantage, with Laraman imploring his side to pass the ball more swiftly.
The young Gunners soon heeded his advice and they continued to create an avalanche of chances, with Akpom and Iwobi both seeing shots saved before Crowley effectively ended the game as a contest, if indeed it had even been one in the first place, with an excellent finish after he latched onto a superb lofted pass from Gedion Zelalem.
Zelalem has not always been at his most effective in recent weeks, but, operating in a more deep-lying role than usual, he was impressive here, with some of his link-up play with Crowley in particular a joy to behold.
Arsenal sought to increase the scoreline further before the interval, with Akpom being denied again before Crowley’s dangerous free-kick was tipped round the post. Torquay mustered just a single shot on target in the opening period, but, to their credit, they at least kept trying to play possession football rather than entrenching themselves in their own half.
Arsenal were forced into a change at half-time, with Maitland-Niles not emerging for the second half because of injury. He was replaced by Lipman, who is no stranger to Meadow Park due to his loan commitments with Boreham Wood, for whom he has been impressive since joining.
The 18 year old almost made a profound impact on his return to Arsenal action and was unfortunate to see his lofted effort strike a post. Moments later, however, the ball did find the back of the net, and it was Iwobi who doubled his tally with another well-taken effort.
The momentum then proceeded to drip out of the game as Torquay tired and Arsenal continued to pass the ball around at a dizzying pace. Zelalem played a neat back-heel into the path of Crowley, who shot over, then Torquay, in a rare attacking foray, squandered an opportunity of their own through Jack Mace.
Jebb then entered the fray in place of Iwobi and the 18 year old proceeded to make it 5-0 when he headed home after some excellent work from Akpom down the right flank. All that seemed to be missing now was an Akpom goal. The striker, who was a regular goalscorer for the U21s last season, has only scored three times in ten starts so far this season, but he was highly unfortunate not to find the net here.
He certainly had several chances to do so, including when he was played in by Crowley but shot wide, but Akpom can still be satisfied with his evening’s work in terms of his overall contribution.
As for Arsenal as a whole, they know they will face considerably tougher tests as they progress in this competition, but this game will have provided a much-needed confidence boost to a group of players who have had to endure some difficult results of late.
Attention will now turn to next week’s UEFA Youth League tie with Napoli, where a point is required to ensure progression to the latter stages.