FA Youth Cup quarter-final
Liverpool 3 (Woltman 22, Norris 35 (pen.), Musialowski 46) Arsenal 1 (Azeez 60 (pen.))
Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup dream is over for another year after Ken Gillard’s side suffered a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield tonight.
The young Gunners didn’t perform particularly badly but they lacked conviction in front of goal and were vulnerable defensively at times.
Deprived of the services of Omari Hutchinson, Arsenal tried their utmost but, despite Miguel Azeez’s penalty, the wait to win this prestigious trophy for the first time since 2009 goes on.
The absence of Hutchinson, who was sensational against West Ham United in the previous round, was a huge blow for Arsenal, although Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, who replaced him, acquitted himself well.
However, Hutchinson’s flair and trickery would undoubtedly have caused problems for Liverpool and would have given Arsenal a greater chance of progressing.
Exciting forward Amani Richards, who recently signed from Chelsea, became the first schoolboy to feature for Arsenal in the Youth Cup this season as he entered the fray as a substitute.
Arsenal were still without the likes of Charlie Patino and Catalin Cirjan due to injury, but Brooke Norton-Cuffy recovered in time to start at right-back.
Butler Oyedeji-Flores-Taylor Hart
Subs: Ideho (for Butler-Oyedeji), Richards (for Edwards). Not used: Graczyk, Awe, Foran, Jeffcott, Gaspar.
As has been well documented, Liverpool have been hugely impressive this season both in the Youth Cup and in the league, and it was clear from the outset that Arsenal would face a considerably tougher challenge than they did against West Ham.
Arsenal created the first notable chance of the game in the eighth minute, with Kido Taylor-Hart getting into space, but the winger shot over.
Liverpool looked to respond, with Mazeed Ogungbo almost getting caught out, but the defender managed to recover in time.
Butler-Oyedeji then sent in a dangerous cross which found Azeez, but the midfielder couldn’t quite make a meaningful connection with his header.
Mateusz Musialowski shot over for Liverpool and then the hosts took the lead, with Max Woltman applying the finishing touch to a well-worked move. Arsenal centre-backs Alex Kirk and Zane Monlouis didn’t cover themselves in glory in the buildup to the goal.
Arsenal, to their credit, responded well to going behind, with Taylor-Hart having a shot blocked, while at the other end Kirk made a well-timed interception.
Ovier Ejeheri made a good save after Monlouis was again beaten too easily, and then matters went from bad to worse for Arsenal as Azeez conceded a penalty.
Perhaps the award of the spot-kick was contentious, but Liverpool didn’t mind as James Norris stepped up and got the better of Ejeheri.
There was further action before the end of the first half, with Ejeheri making a save after Henry-Francis lost the ball before Azeez had a shot saved from distance.
Liverpool went into the break with a 2-0 lead, and the absence of Hutchinson, Patino and Cirjan was particularly keenly felt by Arsenal.
Ogungbo started the second period well as he made some impressive forays down the left flank, but Liverpool eventually went 3-0 up, with Musialowski the scorer on this occasion.
At this point it felt like game over for Arsenal, and Henry-Francis was particularly culpable in the build-up to the goal as he squandered possession.
Arsenal kept trying, with Marcelo Flores, who had a rather quiet game by his high standards, doing well to create space for himself before having a shot saved.
Taylor-Hart had a good effort saved and then Arsenal managed to pull a goal back, with Khayon Edwards being fouled in the area by Billy Koumetio and Azeez emphatically dispatching the spot-kick.
Soon afterwards Arsenal were demanding another penalty for a challenge on Edwards but play was waved on on this occasion.
Arsenal made their first change as Joel Ideho came on for Butler-Oyedeji, and Richards later came on for Edwards.
Gillard’s side kept pushing forwards, with Azeez having a shot blocked, but Liverpool managed to see the game out and Arsenal were knocked out.
Arsenal weren’t outclassed at Anfield but they will certainly feel that they could have performed slightly better, especially in an attacking sense.
There was always an element of concern about the defence, while Henry-Francis, despite being an excellent passer, was caught out defensively on several occasions.
One major positive for Arsenal was the performance of Taylor-Hart, who was direct and skilful, while Butler-Oyedeji also had some encouraging moments, as did Ogungbo going forwards.
For some Arsenal prospects the Youth Cup dream is over forever – with Azeez, Taylor-Hart, Ejeheri, Kirk, Ogungbo and Butler-Oyedeji falling into that category from those that started tonight.
However, Arsenal will be hopeful of enjoying a lengthy run in next season’s competition, when the likes of Hutchinson, Edwards, Flores, Henry-Francis, Norton-Cuffy and Monlouis will have more experience, while others such as Richards will be striving to make the breakthrough.