FA Youth Cup- Semi Final 2nd Leg
Arsenal 2 (C. Willock (6), Malen (62)) Manchester City 2 (Diaz (17), Kongolo (32)) (Manchester City win 4-2 on aggregate)
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
Arsenal U18s saw their FA Youth Cup hopes extinguished on a dramatic night, with Manchester City instead progressing to the Final of this prestigious competition.
The game finished 2-2 on the night, with City winning 4-3 on aggregate, but Arsenal couldn’t be faulted for their effort and still had chances to force extra-time even after Marc Bola was sent off late on.
Chris Willock, who showcased his potential with a fine performance, scored the opening goal of the game in the sixth minute, but City equalised through Brahim Diaz and looked to have put the game beyond doubt when Rodney Kongolo scored.
However, Donyell Malen gave Arsenal hope when he scored shortly after his introduction as a substitute, but the young Gunners were unable to find the net again and suffered the agony of being knocked out.
Subs: Malen (for Mavididi, 60), McGuane (for Bennacer, 60), Sheaf (for Johnson, 85). Not used: Virginia, Da Graca.
Schoolboy Reiss Nelson was drafted into the starting line-up, whilst Jeff Reine-Adelaide started in a deep-lying midfield position.
Having lost 2-1 in the first leg, Arsenal had a point to prove and they immediately set about doing just that.
Reine-Adelaide saw his effort gathered, then Arsenal took the lead on the night in some style, with Willock bursting forwards before producing a composed finish.
Arsenal could have found the net again shortly afterwards as they broke forwards at breakneck speed, but on this occasion Kaylen Hinds was unable to get the better of City goalkeeper Daniel Grimshaw.
Ismael Bennacer then shot over, and Arsenal were made to pay for their profligacy as City scored through Diaz despite Hugo Keto’s best efforts to claw the ball away.
Arsenal, to their credit, didn’t give up despite that setback, with Reine-Adelaide doing well to find Hinds, whose effort hit the side-netting.
Willock, who was continuing to impress, was the next to try his luck as he weaved his way through the City defence but he shot wide.
Arsenal continued to press forwards in search of another goal, but it was City who would find the net next, with Kongolo latching onto a precise pass before finishing well past Keto.
That strike left Arsenal facing an uphill battle going into the second half, but they weren’t about to give in.
Arsenal had a penalty claim turned down early in the second half after Stephy Mavididi appeared to be brought down in the area, but the young Gunners continued to search for another goal.
They were eventually rewarded when Malen, who had just entered the fray, sent a powerful header into the net.
That goal gave Arsenal a lifeline and was the cue for them to push forwards even more, with Chiori Johnson, Hinds and Willock all attempting to find the net.
None of the trio were successful, and Arsenal’s difficult task was then rendered almost impossible when Bola was dismissed for a late challenge.
Arsenal never gave up and were given an opportunity when they were awarded a free-kick as a consequence of Grimshaw handling outside the area.
Substitute Ben Sheaf, a set-piece specialist, stepped up to take it but Grimshaw redeemed himself by holding on and City, in turn, managed to hold on to secure their place in the Final.
For Arsenal it was agony, with this team, the bulk of which has progressed through the ranks together at the club, left very frustrated.
All is not lost, however, as there are some very talented players in this group, not least Krystian Bielik (who was excellent at centre-back), Reine-Adelaide, Willock, Hinds, Nelson, Bennacer and Malen.
Next season’s FA Youth Cup side will have a very different look to it, and for the players that are no longer eligible, attention will now turn to attempting to make the breakthrough into the first-team.