FA Youth Cup quarter-final
Colchester United 1 (Jones 48) Arsenal 5 (Smith Rowe 41, 52, Saka 55, Balogun 66, Amaechi 74)
Emile Smith Rowe hit a brace as Arsenal U18s produced an impressive performance away to Colchester United tonight, with a 5-1 victory securing the young Gunners’ place in the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup.
Kwame Ampadu’s side will face Blackpool in a two-legged semi-final as Arsenal look to win the competition for the first time since 2009 but they didn’t have matters all their own way against a spirited Colchester side.
Arsenal were initially set to face Reading in this round of the competition only for the Royals to be thrown out for fielding an underage player, and Colchester were determined to prove their credentials.
After Smith Rowe gave Arsenal the lead, Colchester pulled level early in the second half courtesy of a penalty from Callum Jones.
Eventually, though, Arsenal’s class shone through, with Smith Rowe getting on the scoresheet again before Bukayo Saka, Folarin Balogun and Xavier Amaechi also found the net.
Arsenal again opted against calling upon Reiss Nelson in this competition, while they were without the suspended Tyreece John-Jules and Joseph Olowu wasn’t involved.
From the victory in the previous round over Middlesbrough there were two changes as Saka and Balogun replaced Matt Smith and John-Jules.
Colchester, meanwhile, called upon former Arsenal youngster Rob Howard.
Subs: Barden, Benson, Omole, M. Smith, Swanson.
Arsenal had prevailed past Sheffield Wednesday, Liverpool and Middlesbrough to reach this stage, and this was their third successive away fixture.
The young Gunners started in the ascendancy as Trae Coyle’s effort struck a post, but Colchester soon provided an indication of the threat they they possessed as Joao Virginia had to make an impressive reaction stop from Jones’ free-kick.
Virginia then made another good save in an even first half, with Arsenal responding by carving out an opportunity of their own as Vontae Daley-Campbell, bursting forwards from right-back, found Coyle, whose shot was saved.
The dangerous Jones then hit a post as Colchester sought to take the lead but it was Arsenal who went into the break in the ascendancy as Smith Rowe found the net with a neat strike.
Arsenal went into the break in buoyant mood but that feeling soon changed early in the second half as Zech Medley conceded a penalty following a challenge.
Jones stepped up and confidently slotted the ball past Virginia to pull a spirited Colchester side level.
Arsenal needed a moment of quality to restore their lead and that it was what transpired as Smith Rowe doubled his tally with an excellent free-kick.
From there, Arsenal grew in confidence and added further to their lead with Saka, a constant attacking threat, applying the finishing touch to a slick passing move.
There was more to come with Balogun scoring on his first appearance in this competition with a shot from close range.
Arsenal added a fifth as Amaechi finished confidently and, despite Colchester’s best efforts, Ampadu’s side managed to prevail.
The hope will be that Arsenal can go all the way in this competition, although Chelsea, who have won the tournament on each of the last four occasions, could potentially lie in wait in the final.