Arsenal U18s secured their place in the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup with an impressive display as they beat their West Bromwich Albion counterparts 4-1 at Meadow Park tonight.
The young Gunners were extremely efficient in the opening period and established a two-goal lead courtesy of goals from Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ben Sheaf before the latter squandered an opportunity to make it 3-0 as he missed a penalty.
West Brom improved greatly after the interval and after Donyell Malen had found the net, Daniel Barbir pulled a goal back for the visitors. That wasn’t the end of the scoring, however, as substitute Stephy Mavididi finished well at the other end to make it 4-1 to Arsenal.
There were plenty of positives to take from the evening, but the victory was overshadowed somewhat by the injury suffered by Reine-Adelaide in the second half, which saw the Frenchman substituted after he received stitches to a head wound.
That aside, it was a very good evening for Arsenal. They were without the services of Krystian Bielik, but Kaylen Hinds recovered from injury in time to feature and was hugely impressive.
In addition Sheaf and Tyrell Robinson, the makeshift full-backs, performed very well and even Kristopher Da Graca, who has largely struggled for the U18s in the league, did his fair share of defensive work.
It served as a measure of the strength in depth that Arsenal now possess at youth level that talented players such as Yassin Fortune, Vlad Dragomir, Josh Dasilva and Edward Nketiah weren’t even on the bench this evening.
Meanwhile, the fact that Greek youngsters Savvas Mourgos and Ilias Chatzitheodoridis weren’t involved despite being in the second year of their scholarship deals doesn’t bode well for their respective futures at the club.
Sheaf-Da Graca-M. Bola-Robinson
Reine Adelaide-Hinds-C. Willock
Subs: Nelson (for Reine-Adelaide, 60), Mavididi (for Malen, 87). Not used: Phillips, T. Bola, Eyoma.
Arsenal started brightly, with Chris Willock, who has been in excellent form of late, delivering a teasing cross into the penalty area, but unfortunately there wasn’t a recipient to meet it.
Da Graca then headed over as Arsenal increased the pressure on the West Brom defence and, although the visitors were then presented with a chance of their own after Robinson lost possession, it was the Gunners who would take the lead.
Reine-Adelaide opened the scoring with a header following a quickly-worked team move. It was the Frenchman’s first goal for the club at any level since arriving from Lens but, as it would transpire, this was a bittersweet night for him when his injury is taken into account.
Arsenal doubled their advantage ten minutes later and the move preceding the second goal was even more well-worked than was the case with the first.
Hinds, who was impressive all evening, played an audacious pass with the outside of his boot to find Reine-Adelaide, who in turn played the ball into the path of Sheaf, with the former West Ham United player rampaging forwards from right-back and finishing well.
Arsenal sought to put the game beyond doubt as quickly as possible, with Sheaf, Willock and Malen all being denied.
Arsenal were then awarded a penalty when Willock was fouled in the area, but Sheaf couldn’t double his tally and instead saw his spot-kick saved by West Brom goalkeeper Matthew Hall.
Willock later came close to scoring before Ismael Bennacer, in the final meaningful act of the first half, had a stinging drive saved by Hall after his initial free-kick was also kept out.
The Arsenal coaches on the touchline were imploring their side to play a fast-paced attacking game, and such an approach certainly paid dividends in the opening period.
Reine-Adelaide had a penalty claim turned in the early stages of the second half, but thereafter West Brom gradually began to impose themselves on proceedings.
Agyei-Tabi, who struggled at times this evening, lost possession but West Brom couldn’t take advantage.
Then came the disappointment regarding Reine-Adelaide. The 17-year-old suffered a head wound and initially seemed fine to continue playing after receiving stitches.
However, he was eventually replaced by schoolboy Reiss Nelson and subsequently went back to the dressing room for further treatment, although he did re-emerge to take his place on the bench towards the end of the game.
West Brom had a couple of inviting chances to reduce the deficit, and they were made to pay for their profligacy, with Arsenal making it 3-0.
The lively Hinds was involved again as he worked hard to win the ball before driving forwards and finding Malen, who finished well to seemingly put the game beyond doubt. The striker wasn’t heavily involved this evening, but he did still provide some reminders of his range of attributes.
West Brom, to their credit, continued to pressurise Arsenal and had an effort strike the crossbar before Keto made a good save.
The visitors eventually got a goal when they capitalised on some static defending, with Barbir sending the ball beyond the reach of Keto.
There was still time for Arsenal to find the net again, however, with Mavididi, who was eager to impress after being left out of the starting line up, doing well to finish.
In all, it was a rather satisfying night for Arsenal, even though Reine-Adelaide’s injury did put something of a dampener on proceedings.
This is an impressive group of Arsenal players, especially in an attacking sense, and with Bielik set to return for the next round, the defence should improve as well.
Arsenal will be seeking to go further in this competition this year than they managed last season, when they were knocked out by Crewe Alexandra at the Fifth Round stage.