FA Youth Cup third round
Arsenal 2 (Amaechi 2) Sheffield Wednesday 1 (Shaw)
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park
At this stage of the FA Youth Cup last season, when Reiss Nelson was sent off in a tempestuous encounter against Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal capitulated without their star man.
On this occasion, however, the young Gunners managed to produce a dominant performance against Sheffield Wednesday even though they were deprived of the services of Nelson, who was rested ahead of the U23 fixture against Derby County on Friday.
In Nelson’s absence Xavier Amaechi came to the fore. The creative starlet has been in sparkling form since returning from injury and he continued in that vein here as he hit a first half brace to give Arsenal control of the tie.
Kwame Amapdu’s side had several chances to extend their lead even further, with Tyreece John-Jules, for instance, rattling a post with one effort.
Sheffield Wednesday were on the backfoot for the majority of the game yet remained spirited in their approach and gave themselves late hope through a header from Liam Shaw.
Arsenal managed to hold on, however, to set up an intriguing trip to face Liverpool, who are coached by Steven Gerrard, in the next round.
Aside from Nelson’s omission, the standout team news saw Trae Coyle named amongst the substitutes, with the prospect yet to truly excel since returning from injury.
John-Jules was preferred to Folarin Balogun up front and Matt Smith was rewarded for his fine league performances with a starting berth in midfield.
Relative experience was provided by Emile Smith Rowe and Zech Medley, who have been involved with the U23s recently, while sprightly schoolboy Bukayo Saka made the bench.
Subs: Saka (for Smith Rowe), Coyle (for Benson), Omole (for M. Smith). Not used: Balogun, Okonkwo.
Arsenal went into this fixture in excellent form having won their last five games in succession and it soon became apparent that they were going to dominate proceedings.
Ampadu was vocal on the touchline, encouraging his players to pass the ball quickly and simply, with one such move culminating in John-Jules seeing an effort saved by Joe Walker.
Smith then located Amaechi with a fine pass and the latter blazed over as Arsenal continued to threaten.
Amaechi made no mistake with his next opportunity shortly afterwards as he latched onto an incisive pass from Robbie Burton and slotted the ball beyond Walker’s reach.
The combination down Arsenal’s right flank of Amaechi and powerful right-back Vontae Daley-Campbell was proving too much for Sheffield Wednesday to handle and Ampadu’s team soon doubled their advantage.
It came as no surprise that Amaechi was the scorer again, taking his tally to six goals in five matches. On this occasion he found the net with a composed finish to further strengthen Arsenal’s grip on the game.
Sheffield Wednesday threatened in a rare attack that amounted to little but they were starting to lose their cool before the interval, with Alex Hunt booked for a rash challenge.
Arsenal started the second half with confidence and, following yet another burst forwards, Daley-Campbell swung in a cross from which John-Jules’ header was saved.
Shortly afterwards Daley-Campbell was rather fortunate not to score an own goal following a swift Sheffield Wednesday breakaway, with Joao Virginia alert to repel the danger.
The Arsenal goalkeeper, who had hitherto been called upon sparingly, then made another impressive claim as he provided a reminder of his credentials.
Daley-Campbell, undeterred by his earlier error, continued to provide a significant attacking threat and he found John-Jules with a cross again, with the striker this time hitting the post.
Emile Smith Rowe, who was kept largely quiet by former Arsenal defender Josh Dawodu, saw his follow-up effort saved.
Smith Rowe sent another effort wide but that proved to be his final action before injury struck and he was replaced by Saka.
Burton was becoming increasingly influential for Arsenal and had a shot saved after he was teed up by John-Jules before Virginia did well at the other end to thwart Ben Hughes.
Coyle then entered the fray in place of Burton but the substitute was rather rusty, providing an indication as to why he wasn’t involved from the outset.
Sheffield Wednesday, to their credit, continued to push forwards despite their two goal deficit and they were eventually rewarded, with Shaw heading in from a corner to set up a dramatic conclusion.
Arsenal threw on Tobi Omole in place of Smith to provide them with extra defensive solidity but Sheffield Wednesday, in the pouring rain, were determined to core an equaliser and send the game to extra time.
Amapdu’s side stood firm, however, with Dominic Thompson making a crucial intervention and Sheffield Wednesday were left devastated, with this Wednesday belonging to Arsenal.
The Liverpool game, which will provide a reunion with another former Arsenal youngster in Elijah Dixon-Bonner, will be a bigger test, but Ampadu’s side can be pleased with their performance tonight, both in an attacking sense and defensively.
Amaechi certainly stood out but there were plenty of other positives to take from proceedings, with Daley-Campbell, Burton, Smith, Virginia and Medley all giving positive accounts of themselves, meaning Nelson’s absence, in the end, was barely noticeable.