FA Youth Cup Quarter-Final
Arsenal 3 (Jebb 34 (pen), 64, Akpom 40) Everton 1 (Williams 48)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Jack Jebb has endured a rather difficult season, with the 18 year old having struggled to assert himself in the club’s U21 set-up. He most probably wouldn’t have been involved at Emirates Stadium this evening had Dan Crowley not been absent through injury. Tonight, however, the midfielder was one of the stars of the show, along with the hugely effective Chuba Akpom, as Arsenal U18s dispatched of a hard-working Everton side, in so doing sealing their place in the last four of the FA Youth Cup.
Jebb and Akpom were never far from the action. Everton enjoyed some sustained spells of possession in the first-half, but their good work was undone when Akpom was brought down in the area by goalkeeper Russell Griffiths, with Jebb dispatching the penalty with the minimum of fuss. Akpom doubled Arsenal’s advantage before the break and, even though Everton responded through Joe Williams, a trademark free-kick from Jebb ensured Arsenal’s progression and, with it, revenge over the side that knocked them out of the competition last season.
Coach Carl Laraman persisted with the same side that beat Charlton Athletic in the last round, with Leander Siemann continuing to deputise for the injured Stefan O’Connor. Schoolboys George Dobson and Chris Willock made the bench, with the latter receiving his first call-up in this competition.
subs not used: Huddart, Wright, Dobson, Lipman, Willock.
Everton are renowned for their strong youth teams and a closely-fought encounter was anticipated this evening. It was Arsenal who started on the front foot, however, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who had scored in each of the three previous rounds, seeing a cross gathered by Griffiths.
Glen Kamara then laid the ball off to Jebb, who saw his shot saved, but it was then Everton’s turn to attack with Arsenal goalkeeper Josh Vickers, who was outstanding against Charlton, called into action to tip the ball over his crossbar. Vickers made another impressive stop from the resultant corner, before the talented Everton number ten Ryan Ledson directed a header off target.
It was an engaging opening, with both sides attacking well without neglecting their defensive duties. Alex Iwobi cut inside his marker and shot wide, with Siemann then having to be alert to make a crucial intervention to bisect an attack at the other end. Arsenal were beginning to find their range, with Jebb and Akpom combining to good effect, although the latter could only shoot wide after being played through by his fellow Hale End graduate.
Ledson shot over for Everton, but Arsenal ended the half the strongest and would go into the break with a two-goal advantage. First Jebb made it 1-0 from the penalty spot after Akpom was felled by Griffiths, but it was the show-stopping piece of skill from Iwobi, a back-heel that completely befuddled the Everton defence, that was the most memorable instance of the move.
The goal increased Arsenal’s confidence somewhat and Laraman’s side began to play with a greater sense of authority, Gedion Zelalem seeing a shot saved before Akpom capitalised on some hesitant defending to beat Griffiths and double Arsenal’s advantage before the interval.
It could have been game over just moments later, with Iwobi slipping in Akpom, who raced past the Everton defenders but couldn’t finish sufficiently. The final action of the half saw Maitland-Niles strike the crossbar with a deft effort, although the fact that Arsenal hadn’t yet found that third goal offered Everton a glimmer of hope.
They certainly seized upon it, with the visiting team fully dominant in the early minutes of the second-half. Vickers had to gather a cross after Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, not for the first time, was left stranded, with Williams then turning home from close range to halve the deficit.
Arsenal had to dig deep, with Tafari Moore making a superb covering challenge to prevent an Everton attack from materialising, and, from that point onwards, the Gunners started to regain their attacking momentum. Arsenal ultimately secured victory following a flurry of chances in quick succession. Kamara played a diligent pass into the path of Jebb, whose shot was saved, with Akpom striking the crossbar from the rebound.
Jebb then provided a reminder of his quality from set-pieces, as he seems to do in nearly every game, with the former England U17 international dispatching a wonderful free-kick high into the goal and well out of the reach of Griffiths. Crowley should be back for the two-legged Semi-Final, but, with Jebb playing like this, Laraman will have a rather difficult selection dilemma on his hands.
Arsenal could easily have scored more, with Akpom embarking on a superb burst down the left flank, only to see his shot hit the side-netting, before later coming close with another effort in the dying stages. The striker has always been a promising player, but he already appears much stronger physically as a consequence of his loan spells in League One, whilst he has continued to build upon his considerable talents in terms of technique.
Akpom’s fitness is certainly not in question either, with the 18 year old playing the full game for his loan side Coventry City against Colchester United on Saturday before also completing the entire 90 minutes here. A return to Arsenal next season as a back-up striker for the first-team squad is not beyond the realms of possibility. Centre-backs Julio Pleguezuelo and Siemann should also be commended for dealing adequately with the considerable attacking threat that Everton posed.
For the team as a whole, this was another commendable cup victory in a season that has been full of them. Progress has also been made in the UEFA Youth League and the U21 Premier League Cup, two competitions that are in their inaugural seasons, but the FA Youth Cup is the most prestigious trophy on offer to Arsenal’s youngsters, and they seem determined to seize their chance to lift it.
There are some stellar names remaining in the tournament, with Chelsea, Liverpool, Fulham and Newcastle United amongst those still to play their Quarter-Final ties, but Arsenal will be confident of further progression, particularly with tonight’s win extending the various youth teams’ 100 per cent record at Emirates Stadium to eleven games.