Papa John’s Trophy – Third round
Arsenal U21s 4 (Olayinka 10, Biereth 42, Hutchinson 61, Flores 67) Chelsea U21s 1 (Wareham 38)
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
Since they first entered this tournament, Arsenal U21s have found it difficult to make progress, but they are now through to quarter-finals, and are just two games away from Wembley, after an excellent performance at home to Chelsea tonight.
Arsenal took an early lead through James Olayinka, who was later stretchered off injured, and Chelsea’s hopes suffered a significant blow when Xavier Mbuyamba was sent off for hauling down Mika Biereth.
The Blues equalised courtesy of Jayden Wareham, but Arsenal then took control of proceedings, with Mika Biereth, the superb Omari Hutchinson (whose goal was of a very high standard) and substitute Marcelo Flores all getting on the scoresheet.
It was a night brimming with positives for Arsenal. Hutchinson and Salah-Eddine were substituted just after the hour mark with Thursday’s first-team game against Liverpool in mind, while Zach Awe impressed as he flitted between operating in defence and midfield. There were plenty of other excellent displays, with Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Biereth and Joel Lopez catching the eye.
Arsenal were without Charlie Patino due to his first-team commitments, but Salah-Eddine, Hutchinson and Biereth all started. Karl Hein returned from injury in goal, while Tim Akinola was back in the squad but was only named among the substitutes, where he was joined by a host of talented prospects, including Khayon Edwards.
Alebiosu-Henry Francis-Salah Eddine-Lopez
Subs: Akinola (for Olayinka, 23), Walters (for Salah-Eddine, 62), Flores (for Hutchinson, 63), Ideho (for Alebiosu, 82), Edwards (for Lopez, 82). Not used: Ejeheri, Sagoe Jr.
Chelsea called upon some exciting youngsters of their own, including Harvey Vale, while 26-year-old midifleder Lewis Baker also started.
Arsenal made a cautious start and a woeful backpass from Ryan Alebiosu led to Chelsea winning a corner. Hein made a stop from the subsequent set-piece, but the flag was raised for offside anyway.
Despite their initial struggles, Arsenal soon settled into proceedings and they took the lead with ten minutes gone. Joel Lopez went for goal and his effort was diverted in by James Olayinka.
It was a great moment for Olayinka, who has endured much frustration at times, but unfortunately shortly afterwards he suffered another injury while attempting to close the ball down and had to be stretchered off.
Akinola entered the fray and the midfielder conceded a free-kick shortly after his introduction, but Baker’s effort went straight into the wall.
Chelsea were enjoying a period of sustained pressure and on one occasion a cross was sent in which flashed across the face of goal, but it went without a recipient. Joe Haigh later had an effort deflected over.
Arsenal responded, with Hutchinson playing in Biereth, but the striker’s shot was saved.
Norton-Cuffy had to make an important clearance at the other end, and then Arsenal received a significant boost, with Chelsea reduced to ten men after Mbuyamba brought down Biereth.
Chelsea responded well to going a man down and managed to equalise courtesy of a composed finish from Wareham as Salah-Eddine was punished for dwelling on the ball for too long.
Just four minutes later, though, Arsenal were back in front, with Biereth scoring after he was located by Mazeed Ogungbo.
Ogungbo was then booked for a late challenge, with Hutchinson subsequently clashing with some of the Chelsea players.
Arsenal looked to add another goal before the break, but Biereth couldn’t quite connect with Ryan Alebiosu’s cross, and then Hutchinson had an effort saved.
The young Gunners went into the break with a 2-1 lead and also one more player on the pitch than their opponents.
At the start of the second half Salah-Eddine embarked on a mazy run, but his shot was then blocked.
Alebiosu then got into a dangerous position twice in quick succession, but his crossing let him down on both occasions.
Lopez had to be alert to cut out the danger, but in the main Arsenal were now on top and Hutchinson was coming to the fore.
The 18-year-old had a spell in which he frequently tormented the Chelsea defence. Firstly he cut inside and had a shot saved. Next, he produced an impressive piece of skill before crossing for Akinola, who attempted to meet it with an acrobatic effort but was just unable to connect.
Hutchinson then went down in the area only for the referee to wave play on, before at the other end a headed attempt from Chelsea went just wide.
Then came the game’s standout moment, with Hutchinson making it 3-1 to Arsenal with an excellent strike.
The prospect ran with the ball and then finished fantastically from outside the area.
Arsenal, with the game seemingly sewn up, made a double change as Reuell Walters and Flores came on for Salah-Eddine and Hutchinson, with the latter pair now required for first-team duty. Awe moved into midfield, with Walters slotting into the back three.
Flores, who has waited so long for a sustained opportunity to impress at this level, made an instant impact as he drew a foul from Baker, who was booked.
Then came Arsenal’s fourth goal, with Flores getting on the scoresheet for the first time at this level as he was teed up by Biereth.
Flores could have doubled his tally shortly afterwards, but his effort was headed off the line.
Arsenal made another double switch as Joel Ideho and Edwards came on for Alebiosu and Lopez.
Both of the players who came on had opportunities to score but weren’t able to find the net.
George Nunn missed a chance late on for Chelsea, but it wasn’t the visitors’ night.
Arsenal will be delighted with both the result and the performance, with Hutchinson, who often operated just behind Biereth, standing out.
Awe demonstrated that he is adapting to this level, while Jack Henry-Francis was quietly effective in midfield and Joel Lopez got forward well down the left. Norton-Cuffy was committed and Biereth showed why he has been involved with the first-team recently, while Flores gave a very good account of himself. Overall, it was an excellent night for the academy.