U18 Premier League
Stoke City 3 (Da Graca o.g. (25), Shepherd (27), N’Goy (68) Arsenal 4 (Robinson (5), (23), Dryden o.g. (11), Eyoma (63)
Arsenal U18s have struggled for both victories and goals this season, so it came as something of a surprise that they managed to combine both feats away to Stoke City on Saturday afternoon.
The young Gunners raced into a three-goal lead, with Tyrell Robinson’s goals coming either side of an own goal by Stoke’s Edward Dryden.
Stoke were provided with something of a lifeline when Arsenal scored an own goal themselves through Kristopher Da Graca, with the hosts then reducing the deficit further courtesy of a strike from Tom Shepherd.
Arsenal found the net again through the in-form Aaron Eyoma in the second-half, but there was more drama to come with Stoke making it 4-3 when Julian N’Goy scored before coming perilously close to claiming a point.
Arsenal held on, however, and their confidence will be boosted by some of the attacking moves they created.
Arsenal were without one of their brightest talents, with Chris Willock away on international duty with England U17s. In his absence schoolboy striker Josh Da Silva came into the starting line-up, with Eyoma moving out to the right flank and Robinson being deployed on the left.
The other changes saw Ryan Huddart replace Hugo Keto in goal and George Dobson come in for Tolaji Bola at centre-back.
subs: Keto, Tabi, T. Bola, Nketiah.
Arsenal lost their opening play-off fixture to Norwich City last week, but they started brightly on this occasion and took the lead after just five minutes. Savvas Mourgos was the orchestrator, with the midfielder playing an excellent pass into the path of Robinson, who confidently lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Dominic Kurasic.
The young Gunners were subjected to some sharp pressing by Stoke, but they continued to launch regular attacks and one such move paid dividends with the second goal. Da Graca did well to seize possession, with the centre-back finding Eyoma, whose teasing cross was inadvertently turned into his own net by Dryden.
It was 3-0 shortly afterwards when Harry Donovan’s effort was blocked and the re-bound fell kindly for Robinson, who finished from close range for his sixth goal at this level this season.
Arsenal were cruising, but Stoke were provided with a way back into the game when Da Graca’s overhit pass bobbled past Huddart and into the back of the net.
Matters then went from bad to worse for Arsenal as Donovan conceded a free-kick and Shepherd finished confidently after Stoke had rattled the crossbar from the set-piece.
Arsenal regained momentum in the second period and their fourth goal owed much to a superb run from Dobson. The youngster ran downfield and found Robinson, whose cross eluded Da Silva, but was eventually met by Eyoma, who finished adroitly.
There was still much more drama to come, however, with Stoke then making it 4-3 when N’Goy finished well following some disappointing defending from Arsenal.
In an end-to-end game there were further opportunities for Arsenal, with Robinson denied a hat-trick by a good save before substitute Edward Nketiah’s effort was cleared off the line.
Stoke protested for a penalty in the dying moments after they felt that Huddart had committed a foul in the area, but the referee waved play on and Arsenal just about managed to hold on for the victory.
Afterwards coach Frans De Kat admitted that his side had played more longer passes than usual, but, despite the concerns that persist about the youngsters’ defensive capabilities, this game also emphasised Arsenal’s qualities in an attacking sense, particularly those of wingers Robinson and Eyoma.