FA Youth Cup third round
Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 1 (Butterworth 78)
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park
10-man Arsenal U18s saw their FA Youth Cup journey come to an abrupt end as they were beaten 1-0 by a spirited Blackburn Rovers side tonight.
The young Gunners knew that they would face a difficult challenge against the Lancashire outfit and their task was made even tougher when Reiss Nelson, arguably their star man, was sent off in the first-half following a brawl between both sets of players.
Arsenal battled arduously thereafter but Blackburn eventually prevailed, with Daniel Butterworth scoring in the 78th minute to send Kwame Ampadu’s side crashing out.
Ampadu was deprived of the services of injured duo Charlie Gilmour and Yassin Fortune, but fielded a strong side with regards to attacking players, with Edward Nketiah, Donyell Malen, Vlad Dragomir, Emile Smith-Rowe and Nelson all starting.
Josh DaSilva, meanwhile, started at centre-back alongside first-year Joseph Olowu, with schoolboy goalkeeper Daniel Barden making the bench.
Osei Tutu-Olowu-DaSilva-T. Bola
Subs: Tella (for Smith-Rowe, 67), J. Willock (for Malen, 79). Not used: Barden, Coyle, Pileas.
The game commenced at frenetic speed and Arsenal quickly showcased their attacking credentials, with Smith-Rowe and Nelson combining to excellent effect before Nketiah shot wide.
At the other end, DaSilva, who is growing accustomed to his latest position of centre-back, had to be alert to cut out the danger after Blackburn broke forwards when Smith-Rowe squandered possession.
Virginia then saved a header but then came the flashpoint that would shape the remainder of the game.
There had been several rash challenges in the early exchanges and one such tackle led to a mass brawl breaking out between both sets of players.
The referee took his time to assess the situation and then sent off Nelson, depriving Arsenal of the services of the extremely talented England youth international.
To their credit, Arsenal appeared galvanised by the difficult predicament they found themselves in, with Dragomir, Nketiah and DaSilva all having attempts as Ampadu’s side looked to take the lead in spite of their numerical disadvantage.
Blackburn’s physical approach continued after the interval, with Dragomir being kicked up in the air only for the referee, to the bewilderment of the Arsenal players, to wave play on.
Malen then had an effort saved after Nketiah had done well to create an opening, but at the other end Virginia had to make an impressive stop to keep Blackburn at bay.
The game was at last starting to open up, and Smith-Rowe almost fashioned an opening when he crossed from the right flank but his delivery just eluded Nketiah.
Virginia then made an excellent double stop to preserve parity before Arsenal made their first alteration of the game with Nathan Tella replacing Smith-Rowe. The change was a bizarre one, not because of Tella’s introduction, but due to the decision to withdraw Smith-Rowe, who had been one of Arsenal’s standout players in a difficult game.
Arsenal pushed for a winner but they were left heartbroken when Butterworth headed home with just twelve minutes remaining.
The Blackburn players celebrated wildly and Arsenal knew that time was running out. Arsenal brought on Joe Willock as they went all out for the victory.
However, despite a late onslaught that saw Virginia go up for a free kick and Tella fire over when well placed, Arsenal were beaten as they were eliminated at this stage of the competition for the first time since the loss to Derby County five years ago.
The likes of Nketiah, DaSilva, Dragomir, Malen, Marcus McGuane, Jordi Osei-Tutu and Tolaji Bola won’t be eligible for next season’s tournament, but Nelson will, and, after tonight’s events, the 17-year-old will certainly be seeking to make amends.