FA Youth Cup report- Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1- Much work to do for young Gunners

FA Youth Cup- Semi Final, 1st Leg

Chelsea 2 (Colkett 59, Kiwomya 66) Arsenal 1 (Akpom 56)

By Jeorge Bird @ Stamford Bridge

Arsenal U18s face an uphill struggle if they are to reach their first FA Youth Cup Final since 2009 after they were beaten by Chelsea in the first leg of their Semi-Final tie this evening.

The young Gunners took the lead courtesy of a fine strike from Chuba Akpom, but Chelsea levelled just three minutes later before Alex Kiwomya scored what could prove to be a crucial goal as he put the hosts ahead. As in several of the previous rounds, Arsenal were hugely reliant on goalkeeper Josh Vickers to keep the opposition at bay, but they struggled to fully function as an attacking force, with midfielder Gedion Zelalem particularly culpable.

Zelalem’s carelessness in possession led to Chelsea’s opener, which was scored by Charlie Colkett, and the German lost the ball again shortly afterwards, prompting his replacement by Jack Jebb. Julio Pleguezuelo and Ainsley Maitland-Niles did, however, come out of the game with some credit, along with Vickers and Akpom, although this was far from a vintage display from an Arsenal side who were at times swamped by Chelsea’s dominance in midfield.

The tie is not over, especially when the youth teams’ immaculate record at Emirates Stadium is taken into account, but coach Carl Laraman will want to see much more from his side next Thursday, with Arsenal having struggled to gain any sort of foothold in this encounter.

The team line-up was the expected one, with Zelalem being preferred over Jebb. In hindsight, that was perhaps the wrong decision to make.


Moore-Pleguezuelo-Siemann-Ormonde Ottewill


Mailtand Niles-Crowley-Iwobi


subs: Jebb (for Zelalem, 66). Not used: Huddart, O’Connor, Dobson, Lipman.

Arsenal had some defending to do in the early stages, with Vickers being called into action for the first time as he gathered a cross from Fankaty Dabo.

Maitland-Niles, who has been so impressive recently, then did well to manoeuvre some space for himself at the other end, but he dragged his shot wide of the far post before Chelsea squandered an inviting opportunity when Colkett flicked the ball into the path of Izzy Brown, who made the mistake of electing to pass instead of going for goal, with Arsenal eventually clearing their lines.

Chelsea were dominant throughout the first-half, particularly in terms of their midfield play. Arsenal’s approach was rather stagnant in contrast, but most of the openings that they did create fell to Akpom. The striker struck a shot into the side-netting, before Alex Iwobi’s header was tipped over the crossbar for a corner.

Chelsea’s dominance continued after the interval, with the game suddenly becoming rather more open. Brown saw his shot held after Arsenal’s hesitancy saw them hustled out of possession, then Jordan Houghton shot over after Pleguezuelo’s header fell invitingly into his path.

Chelsea goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney then played the ball mistakenly into the path of Dan Crowley in front of goal, but the midfielder couldn’t capitalise. The intensity of the game had increased greatly, with Vickers then making a superb double save in quick succession to deny Colkett and Kiwomya.

Arsenal were struggling to create chances with any sort of regularity, and their usual brand of passing football was surprisingly absent, but what good openings they did muster came courtesy of Akpom, with the striker attempting a shot from a difficult angle which was saved.

Arsenal’s lack of ingenuity seemed set to cost them, but then they temporarily awoke from their slumber. Maitland-Niles played a perceptive pass straight into the path of Akpom, who beat Beeney with a well-placed finish. With the travelling Arsenal supporters jubilant and Akpom evidently delighted to have found the net, you forgot that this was a youth-team game, albeit just for a moment.

With their lead, albeit somewhat fortunately, intact, Arsenal were now faced with the task of seeing the game out for the remaining 34 minutes. Largely owing to the carelessness of Zelalem, they held out for just three minutes. Zelalem, not for the first or last time, lost possession, and, although Arsenal initially managed to clear the danger, the ball eventually fell to Colkett, who finished well to equalise.

Zelalem didn’t learn from his mistake, as he squandered possession again. Thankfully, this time the outcome wasn’t quite so damning, with Vickers earning his team-mate a reprieve as he denied Brown.

It was only a temporary respite, however, as Chelsea soon took the lead. The effective Ruben Loftus-Cheek clipped the ball forwards. Vickers kept out Dominic Solanke’s header, but the ball fell into the path of Kiwomya, whose overhead kick was enough to beat the Arsenal goalkeeper.

Jebb, not before time, was then introduced in place of Zelalem. The midfielder immediately got to work, playing a good pass into the path of his long-time colleague Akpom, who couldn’t quite get the ball under control.

Arsenal had threatened intermittently, but in the end they were perhaps thankful to depart Stamford Bridge with just a one-goal deficit. Right-back Ola Aina wasted a good chance following a quick breakaway, with Vickers then making two more excellent stops. The goalkeeper, along with fellow second-years Iwobi and Glen Kamara, will surely be rewarded with a professional contract at the end of the campaign.

Maitland-Niles sent an effort well wide in the closing stages, but Arsenal will be all too aware that, if they are to progress to the Final, it will require an immense improvement from tonight. They flickered only ever so often in an attacking sense, with Akpom impressing despite often receiving little support from the midfield, whilst the defensive frailties that seem to plague the club at all levels were once again in evidence here.

This was another example of Arsenal being somewhat overrun by a major side at youth level, with the defeat put into even further perspective by the fact that Chelsea were without arguably their most impressive starlet in Jeremie Boga.

Vickers, as he has been throughout this run, was outstanding, but he will need his team-mates to perform similar heroics in the second leg if they are to reach the Final against Fulham.



  1. I know it’s early days and he’s still a big talent, but if feel zelalem is slightly overhyped, we have other youth prospects who have earned less recognition but are ahead of him, at least for the time being. Good article however.

    1. He appears.to be one of those players that need experience around him, that allows the odd error and gives.more freedom to express yourself. At u18s and u21s he seems to be uncomfortable with his surroundings, almost.like the pressure is on him to be the main man. I blame wenger for this, elevating him to first team level too soon, when far more effective players like aneke are farmed out on loan.

      1. May (is!) bit if a controversial comment to say but I think zelalem would be more likely to make it at a team like barca than arsenal. That is not to say he won’t make it at arsenal rather he won’t NECESSARILY make it here.

        He’s very good on the ball and clever footballer but I notice we always tend to get dominated whenever he plays in midfield. I realise ppl say he should play furthest forward but first I genuinely feel crowley is better in that position and there is a minimum level of athleticism/physicality required and I don’t think he meetst that criteria presently.

        Still think he’s odds on to make it but not any time in the near future and really needs to a more dynamic approach. I would still say three years in that regard. On a side note very pleased with the way maitland niles is developing. Better yet is the lack of coverage he’s getting. Allows him to develop at his own pace. England has great talent but if you continue labelling 16/17year old players ‘England’s shining hope’, ‘next gerrard/scholes/messi!’ etc it’s more like sabotage.

      2. Crowley, Jebb, Olsson and Toral are better prospects. Jebb came on and changed the midfield for us. I hope he starts next game because Zelalem can’t come with physical strong and very good players. I hope Jebb stay another year but I have little hope when Zelalem keeps getting more time despite being worse.

  2. Zelalem was woeful tonight, he looked lost in the occasion and the game seemed to pass him by. He made some good tackles but his passing was shocking. Also thought the Akpom Crowley partnership showed some issues. Akpom was clearly angry at the misplaced pass from Crowley over the top when he wanted it to feet, and when he had the chance to return the favour with an almost identical chance, he spurned it instead running into 4 defenders. They barely linked up second half. Maitland-Niles was good first half but quiet second which was disappointing as he clearly had the beating of the full back. Jebb played some nice passes when he came on. Pleggy was solid at the back, good strength pace and bravery. But Vickers was MOTM for Arsenal, and without him thingies would be over. The save just before the second goal was brilliant and the 3 stops he pulled off in the last 15 mins kept it respectable. Agreed we’ll need a lot more from them for next week of we’re to progress. Good report.

    1. Yeah that was a ridiculous decision by akpom when he ran across the pitch instead of passing the ball to Crowley. There was another time too when Crowley put akpom through down the left and akpom couldve returned a pass to him inside the penalty area but he chose not to

    2. So both Arsenal’s young hot prospects (Crowly and Zelalem)have been disappointing? too bad. maybe if arsenal let Zelalem play in his preferred position, this would not happen. what happened to the talented kid we saw and raved about during the pre-season games?? the comments i hear about him now are worrying me. maybe too many negative comments have shaken his confidence…JB do you think Zelalem should leave Arsenal?

      1. Joe Just changed it now. Was wondering aswell When i was reading O’Connor Twice on the Team sheet earlier. How did. the rest of the defence play?

  3. obviously, it is clear that Gideon has great potential and needs some time to develop well as he is still very young and we should always be positive and support him to improve quickly @ ……………

  4. For me jack Jebb should be ahead zelalem when jack came on he played some Stevie gerrard type passes. I have i hopes for jebb

  5. I expected us to play better than that considering the players we have. We didn’t play to our strengths by knocking balls forward to akpom, we played an awful style of football. That didn’t help zelalem, how is he supposed to dominate the game when we play long balls every minute? having said that, it was the most sloppy performance ive seen from him in terms of losing the ball. I was impressed by Crowley, he had a lot of good touches, but it was difficult for him to get into the game and that wasn’t his fault, just poor tactics. He was a bit physically off the pace, hes only been back 3 weeks from a 2 and a half month injury, and this match was of very high intensity for a youth game. Niles was ok, but I wasn’t impressed by how he tried to do everything himself, always losing the ball when there was a pass on. Huddart being motm probably says it all about how we played

  6. Spot on match report. Was a disappointing night for us but, given the score, by no means a disastrous one.

    However, it long ago reached the point where you have to wonder how correct it is to put a lot of blame on mistakes of the type Zelalem made for their equaliser. Those mistakes are endemic within the club at all levels and that, unfortunately, points firmly towards flaws with our coaching and even our whole take on the game of football.

    It’s possible that the coaches, 1st team included, do spend time going over what to do when you concede or score a goal, but if they do, boy nobody listens to them! Here as against Barca, the adrenaline flowed, confidence soared, we pushed forward for more…nobody took control and nobody recognised that ,while another goal right away would be mighty nice, a bonus, at that juncture in the game all that really mattered was keeping them out for a while and settling into the lead.

    Well, can’t be all negative (I started following the youths actively as a refuge from first-team woes, not counting on setting myself up for big disappointments there,too), there were quite a few decent performances- Moore, Pleguezuelo, Kamara, Maitland Niles- an excellent one from the keeper, flashes of Crowley’s potential, and enough from Akpom to keep believing he really could make it and be the first striker to progress through the ranks since Kevin Cambell.

    Worries about what dropping Zelalem might do to his confidence have to be put aside (if he’s to make it, the sort of mental toughness required to handle dips/setbacks at this point will be necessary anyway)- we don’t have a Loftus-Cheek (he’d have played at least twenty games for our seniors this year if we did) , but the situation demands pragmatism and bringing in the closest we can muster to that for 2nd leg, i.e Jebb.

  7. I agree with Rich, because I can the same four flaws in our team whatever the level.

    1) a blind spot for central defensive midfield. It’s a given that they must be good passer of the ball not just sideways but also forward. But they also need to be quick and strong. Arteta, Zelalem are good players, but they can’t impose themselves on game the way a Yaya Touré, Ramires/Matic can. Even Steven NZonzi looks world class against us. Hayden is the closest we have to that. But unless he changes, he is a red card waiting to happen. I can see him getting the same kind of career than our former Dench man: on the fringe of the team, then after a mistake too many being sold to a championship side.

    2) a big lack of physicality. AFC should not for Orc like or Neanderthal the way Stoke used to, however football is a physical game. Coaches need to understand that without more strength teams just overpower us. Zelalem may be a future great, but he needs to spend at least 45 minutes every day at the gym. That reproach is not new. For the last three years, every single of our loanees was at the receiving end of such reproach: Not match fit enough, lacking in upper body strength.

    3) no winger, no dribbler. All our midfield players are passers. None of them can run with the ball and take an opponent in a 1v1 situation from a standing start. Against a well organised compact defense, AFC is impotent. A couple of years with the purchase of Gallindo, Wellington, Ryo I thought at least we were going to get some joy. Alas, none of them will make the grade. The last genuine decent winger AFC produced was Jerome Thomas.

    4) Tactical naivity. It is particularly visible in game where both teams match each other’s in term of individual player quality. Arsenal is unable to step foot on the ball and closing out a game. Even try to diffuse a situation, by clinging to a lead or a draw for 10 minutes.

    5) lack of leaders on the pitch. Our team is full of nice guys, but nobody is willing to take charge and sometimes scream at partner to remind them of their tasks and responsibilities. At senior level, Per and Flamini are the only two, willing to drag our team forward. Nobody will take on himself to change his role to solve persistent problem unless instructed by the coach.

    1. “…3) no winger, no dribbler. All our midfield players are passers. None of them can run with the ball and take an opponent in a 1v1 situation from a standing start….”

      I dont know that this is entirely true. Gnabry is able to do this – but Wenger has often declined to play him when the situation really called for this.

      Wenger seems to want “wing play” from full backs, not the midfielders and strikers and so I think this is discouraged in the youth here. Yet he doesnt really buy senior full back that are appropriate for this either.

      Gibbs has a small bit of this ability, but it has basically been coached out of him at senior level. He has clearly been told to keep it straight and not lose the ball. We shall see if Bellerin is stiffled in the same way that has happened with Gibbs and also Eboue before that. Gervinho too.

      I cant remember exactly when Jerome Thomas left here but I think after him there was Ryan Smith, an immense wing talent who had not the mental makeup required to make it big at this club – or any club, really. But Smith got a couple knee injuries too many, so that was that anyway. Would have liked to have seen him play for the club though – club screaming out for that skill set for so many years…

  8. ‘Carelessness on the ball’? i saw the highlights of the game, and i don’t think that Zelalem was careless at all. he may have made a mistake, but to call it carelessness is a bit too much. you have been critical of him lately , even when the team wins. I will rely on Wenger’s assessment of Zelalem.

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