FA Youth Cup
Arsenal 2 (Mavididi 66, M. Bola 83) Crewe Alexandra 3 (O’Neill 7, O’Connor (o.g.) 48, Brown 67)
By Jeorge Bird @The Hive
Arsenal’s hopes of winning the FA Youth Cup are over for another year after they were beaten by a determined Crewe Alexandra at The Hive this evening.
Arsenal’s performance was deeply disappointing, with the young Gunners struggling to muster much rhythm in an attacking sense, whilst the defensive side of their game was underpinned by some alarming individual errors, some of which led to Crewe’s goals.
Renny Smith, admittedly a player who prefers to be used further forwards, struggled at right-back, Stefan O’Connor scored an own goal after he failed to get out of the way of Ryan Huddart’s attempt to parry the ball and a loss of concentration from George Dobson enabled Crewe to score their third goal.
Somewhat remarkably, despite the feeble nature of their overall performance, Arsenal still had a fighting chance of at least forcing extra-time following goals from Stephy Mavididi and substitute Marc Bola, but Crewe held on for a deserved victory and will face Manchester City in the next round.
Krystian Bielik was unable to make his debut for the club because of a registration issue, whilst Kaylen Hinds, Chiori Johnson, Tafari Moore and Julio Pleguezuelo were all absent through injury. Coach Frans De Kat was short of attacking options on the bench.
Dan Crowley, somewhat bizarrely, spent most of the evening operating in a deeper-lying position that usual, with Gedion Zelalem deployed further forwards.
subs: M. Bola (for Eyoma). Not used: Keto, Donovan, Sheaf, Wright.
This fixture had been postponed on two occasions and from the offset it was clear that Crewe, whose successful academy is renowned throughout football, were determined to seal their progression to the Quarter-Finals.
The visitors, backed by a small contingent of travelling supporters, immediately set about making life difficult for Arsenal and came close to finding the net early on before George Cooper did well to find Liam O’Neill, who directed his effort past Ryan Huddart to open the scoring.
Huddart had to make a good save shortly afterwards to prevent Crewe from doubling their advantage as the young Gunners were quickly made aware that they would have to be at their very best to avoid elimination this evening.
Arsenal struggled to keep hold of the ball in the early stages, with Crewe coming close again after the Arsenal defence failed to clear properly.
Smith was booked for a shameful dive in the penalty area, before Arsenal nearly created their first chance of note but Crowley’s through ball was just beyond the reach of Mavididi.
Crewe quickly established that the most effective way to breach the Arsenal defence was to play balls in behind Smith, who struggled to cope with the threat that the opposition provided.
Arsenal certainly weren’t helping themselves, with Zelalem playing a careless pass straight to an opposition player, whose effort was wayward.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles gradually grew into the game and the 17-year-old did well to win possession before sending a fierce effort just over the crossbar.
Crowley sent a first-time effort straight at the goalkeeper as Arsenal began to play with a little more intensity.
Aaron Eyoma then delivered a dangerous cross from the right flank that just eluded both Mavididi and Chris Willock as Arsenal ended the first half well.
They were shot back down to earth soon after the interval, however, when Crewe went two goals up. Huddart attempted to deal with a dangerous cross, but the goalkeeper succeeded only in palming the ball against O’Connor, who couldn’t prevent himself from scoring an own goal.
That incident rather summed up Arsenal’s ineptitude and, at that point, it seemed as if any chance of a comeback was fanciful.
To their credit, though, Arsenal did respond, with Maitland-Niles sending an intelligent pass into the path of Mavididi, who shot over.
Dobson had to make a crucial intervention at the other end, however, to prevent Crewe from scoring another goal.
Arsenal gave themselves a glimmer of hope of salvaging the tie when Mavididi finished well after Zelalem latched onto Eyoma’s cross.
The momentum was very short-lived indeed, however, as just moments later a careless mistake by Dobson enabled Andre Brown to score.
The drama wasn’t yet over, though. Far from it. Arsenal pushed on in search of a goal, with Willock’s cross just eluding Mavididi before Bola, who had impressed following his introduction as a substitute, saw a header saved.
It was Bola who would then find the net with an emphatic strike- his first goal at this level- but despite some sustained late pressure, which saw O’Connor pushed up front and Mavididi come close with a header, Arsenal were unable to get the third goal and Crewe managed to hang on.