Premier League International Cup – Semi-final
Arsenal 2 (John-Jules 8, Gilmour (pen) 19) Villarreal 2 (Dalmau 21, Franquesa 40) (a.e.t., Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties)
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
For so long in this titanic tussle, it appeared that Deyan Iliev and Zech Medley were going to be the players to cost Arsenal.
Having established a two-goal lead courtesy of a strike from the prolific Tyreece John-Jules and a penalty from the impressive Charlie Gilmour, Arsenal’s advantage was erased, with goalkeeper Iliev making a major mistake for Villarreal’s first goal before Medley then turned the ball into his own net.
The game went on and on, into extra-time, and then the first ever penalty shoot out at Emirates Stadium. Then villains became heroes, with Iliev saving Ruben Mesa’s spot-kick before Medley confidently slotted home the decisive penalty to send Arsenal through to the final of the Premier League International Cup, where they will face either Newcastle United or Porto.
Arsenal were still without Reiss Nelson, Matt Macey and Eddie Nketiah, who will train with the first-team tomorrow, but they could call upon Konstantinos Mavropanos and Joe Willock, who returned to the side at the expense of Joe Olowu and Vontae Daley-Campbell, with the latter dropping out of the squad entirely. Iliev, meanwhile, replaced Joao Virginia in goal, with the young Gunners reverting to a back four.
Osei Tutu-Mavropanos-Medley-T. Bola
Subs: Olowu (for Mavropanos, 51), Fortune (for Amaechi, 71), Balogun (for Dragomir, 90). Not used: Virginia, Coyle, Burton.
In front of a crowd of 1,561 at Emirates, Arsenal started well and they looked to cause problems for the Villarreal defence early on.
They managed to make the breakthrough in the tenth minute, with Tolaji Bola’s effort being blocked and the ball falling to John-Jules, who found the net with a clinical finish.
Arsenal quickly set about attempting to add to their lead, with Xavier Amaechi’s free-kick stinging the fingertips of Villarreal goalkeeper Jose Antonio Martinez.
Medley had to be alert to make an important intervention at the other end when Mavropanos was caught out, but Arsenal were in control and were presented with an opportunity to add to their lead when Gilmour was brought down in the area.
Gilmour is known for his penalty-taking exploits – he scored three in one game for the U18s last season – and he made no mistake on this occasion as he made it 2-0 to Arsenal.
Game over? Not quite. Villarreal were spirited in their response but the goal that saw them reduce the deficit was a gift as Iliev, in calamitous fashion, failed to control a Medley backpass and Adrian Dalmau took full advantage.
Arsenal were determined to restore their two-goal cushion, but Dragomir’s teasing cross went without a recipient and then John-Jules shot over.
Just before the break Villarreal, somewhat remarkably, were level, with Medley turning the ball into his own net under pressure.
Villarreal were buoyed by their equaliser and started the second half in positive fashion, with Mavropanos making a superb block to prevent a goal.
The Greek defender hurt himself in the process, however, which caused him to be replaced by Olowu in the early stages of the second period.
Arsenal made a tactical switch, with Vlad Dragomir coming across to the right wing and Amaechi switching to the left, but it made little difference, with neither player able to have much of an impact on proceedings.
Joe Willock was constantly seeking to create an opening for Arsenal and on one occasion the midfielder showed good skill before shooting over from long range.
Yassin Fortune was then introduced in place of Amaechi, but the Frenchman, who has fallen well down the pecking order, was completely out of sorts as he appeared to be lacking fitness and was unable to make any kind of impact.
A terrible kick from Iliev almost led to Villarreal taking the lead but, as the game wore on, Arsenal finally began to have more of an impact again.
Dasilva sent an ambitious effort over the crossbar before Dragomir flicked a header just wide.
Then, in stoppage time, Dasilva came close with a curling effort, but it ended level after 90 minutes, with extra-time following.
Arsenal had one remaining substitution and they elected to use it straight away, with Folarin Balogun, who hit a late equaliser in the league against Liverpool last week, entering the fray in place of Dragomir.
Extra-time was rather uneventful for the most part, although Arsenal did controversially have a penalty claim turned down in the latter stages when Willock was seemingly fouled in the area.
It then went to penalties and Arsenal were assured from the spot, with Gilmour, Dasilva and Fortune all scoring before Iliev reacted well to deny Ruben Mesa.
The responsibility, and the opportunity for redemption, then fell to Medley, who stepped up confidently and finished well, sparking jubilant scenes.
This was far from a vintage performance from Arsenal, with only Gilmour, who was hugely impressive, really standing out, but the important aspect is that they are through to the final.
There is still the opportunity for league glory too, although several players were understandably tired at the end, which could lead to several changes for the game against Swansea City on Friday.
For now, though, it is time to reflect on a dramatic night, one which saw two potential villains become heroes.