FA Youth Cup final, second leg
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 4 (Gilmour 10, Hudson-Odoi 56, 76, Anjorin 66)
(Chelsea win 7-1 on aggregate)
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
Arsenal worked extremely hard to get to the final of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in nine years but upon reaching that stage they found themselves outclassed by a superb Chelsea team, with the Blues having now won this prestigious trophy for the last five seasons in succession.
Chelsea deserve much credit, and they have some sterling talents at their disposal, such as Callum Hudson-Odoi, Billy Gilmour and Dujon Sterling, but Arsenal will still feel that they should have done better than suffer a 7-1 aggregate defeat.
In reality this tie was lost at Stamford Bridge, where Arsenal were beaten 3-1 on Friday night, and Kwame Ampadu’s team had very little chance of oveturning the deficit at Emirates Stadium.
They found Chelsea reinvigorated and even more determined, while Arsenal were woeful as they lacked cohesion and struggled to make the most of the considerable talents of Xavier Amaechi and Emile Smith Rowe.
Were it not for the many interventions of impressive goalkeeper Joao Virginia, Chelsea could easily have reached double figures in terms of the aggregate scoreline, with Arsenal’s midfield and defence frequently being carved apart by their opponents’ incisive passing.
All is not lost – there are certainly some members of this group who could go on to become first-team players – but this was a chastening defeat and losing 4-0 at home in a final will take some getting over.
Ampadu’s decision to substitute Smith Rowe when Arsenal were 1-0 up at the Bridge could be looked back upon as a turning point in the tie, but it seems likely that Chelsea, given the quality that they possess, would have prevailed in any case.
For tonight’s game Ampadu made two alterations to his side. Schoolboy winger Bukayo Saka came in for Matt Smith, while Joseph Olowu replaced Zech Medley at the heart of the defence, with Folarin Balogun fit enough to make the bench.
Subs: Coyle, Balogun, Medley. Not used: Barden, M. Smith.
Arsenal looked to quickly get themselves back into the tie, with Smith Rowe aiming to find Tyreece John-Jules, but the move didn’t materialise as hoped.
Smith Rowe then played a neat pass into the path of Xavier Amaechi, with the latter seeing his effort saved.
Arsenal’s early momentum was quickly quashed, however, with Chelsea opening the scoring through Billy Gilmour, who found the net after Olowu’s headed clearance saw the ball land at his feet.
The young Gunners were dejected and there could have been further misery to endure shortly afterwards but Virginia did well to make an impressive stop after Danny Ballard was caught out.
Arsenal were starting to lose their composure, with some players expressing their frustration with eachother, but they could have at least pulled one goal back through Bukayo Saka had the winger’s effort not lacked conviction.
Virginia had to react well again to keep out Hudson-Odoi’s effort just before half-time, with Chelsea going into the break 4-1 up on aggregate.
There were, at long last, some encouraging signs for Arsenal in the early stages of the second half, with the sprightly Saka seeking to get beyond the Chelsea defence.
However, again the youngster’s finishing was wayward as Arsenal spurned opportunities to give themselves a glimmer of hope.
Right-back Vontae Daley-Campbell was also getting forward to good effect as he delivered some teasing crosses, but that positive period for Arsenal was unfortunately shortlived as Chelsea soon returned to their devastating best.
The Blues engineered a stunning multi-pass move which bamboozled the Arsenal defence, with Hudson-Odoi finishing adroitly past Virginia to make it 2-0 on the night and 5-1 on aggregate, effectively ending any remaining chance of a comeback.
Ampadu continued his recent theme of making bizarre substitutions as he brought off the dangerous Amaechi, with Balogun entering the fray.
Virginia made another fine stop but the Portuguese goalkeeper couldn’t prevent Chelsea substitute Tino Anjorin from adding another goal.
Arsenal showed some signs of fight despite their plight as Ballard had a header cleared off the line, but Chelsea continued to excel and, after Medley replaced Ballard in the Gunners’ defence, Hudson-Odoi proceeded to find the net again, much to the delight of the small section of travelling Chelsea supporters.
There was, briefly, something to cheer for Arsenal as Saka put the ball in the net from Daley-Campbell’s cross, but, in keeping with a deeply frustrating night, the strike was ruled out for offside.
It looked as if Chelsea were going to add yet another goal to their tally following an error from Olowu, but the defender recovered well to clear the danger, albeit hurting Virginia in the process.
The Arsenal goalkeeper was able to finish the game, but, perhaps to sum up the gulf in class between the two teams, Hudson-Odoi had the audaciousness to attempt to find the net from the halfway line in the closing stages.
That may not have come to fruition but most of what Chelsea attempted did and they were, as painful as it is say, far too good for Arsenal.
Arsenal could certainly have done much more with the players they had and at times they looked more like a group of individuals than a team, with Chelsea ruthlessly exposing their weaknesses.
There are still some standout talents amongst these players. Virginia, despite conceding seven goals over the course of the tie, has enhanced his reputation with some excellent interventions and could thrive with a more reliable defence ahead of him.
Daley-Campbell has promise going forwards but perhaps his future lies as a winger rather than at right-back, while Smith Rowe’s qualities are clear to see.
Amaechi, too, is very talented, as are Balogun and John-Jules, even though the latter has appeared a little tired in recent games.
Some players, especially defensively, sadly aren’t of the required standard and almost certainly never will be, but all is not completely lost for the Arsenal academy when some of the aforementioned prospects are considered.
This, though, was a hugely frustrating occasion, with Arsenal unable to prevent Chelsea from adding to their ever-growing collection of Youth Cups.
The hope is that Arsenal will one day be able to reclaim this trophy themselves, but they might have to wait a while yet.