Despite an entertaining affair at the Emirates, the hosts were knocked out of this year’s FA Youth Cup at the semi-final stage – on aggregate against Jason Wilcox’s side.
Goals from Chris Willock as well as substitute Donyell Malen were unfortunately not enough for the Young Guns to progress into this year’s FA Youth Cup final – losing 4-3 on aggregate after two quick-fire Manchester City first-half strikes. Having started encouragingly, Willock broke the deadlock after just five minutes following an excellent darting run forward, before curling a low effort past Daniel Grimshaw‘s dive into the bottom corner.
The 2-1 aggregate deficit was suddenly overturned, and Jason Wilcox‘s side found themselves chasing the game for large periods of the first-half, where a succession of sloppy passing in midfield saw the hosts enjoy promising moments in-and-around the final third.
However against the run of play, the sky Blues found themselves a goal from seemingly nothing. A throw-in on the far side was too powerful as we relinquished possession, and a quick passing exchange down the left-hand side saw the ball fall to Brahim Diaz. The talented Spaniard weaved his way into the area and despite a sharp reaction save from Hugo Keto, Diaz was in the perfect place to head home from close-range after the ball bounced in a goalmouth scramble.
A momentarily lapse in concentration proved costly shortly after the half-hour mark, when Diaz’s quick free-kick caught the Gunners backline off-guard, allowing Rodney Kongolo space to slip through virtually unchallenged, where he was able to slot home through Keto’s legs to double City’s lead on the evening – making it seem more like mission impossible for the Young Guns in-front of a stunned crowd.
Spirited fightback, but not enough
In spite of the result though, you had to give credit to the Arsenal players – refusing to give up and they managed to cause their visitors plenty of problems in the process. The relentless running and energy of Reiss Nelson was certainly encouraging to see, Krystian Bielik was excellent in the heart of defence and made a succession of important tackles and interceptions – whilst Willock justified Arséne’s praise of his talent with an impressive display throughout.
The encounter was soured by a number of questionable refereeing decisions, especially considering the plethora of cynical fouls that the City youngsters gave away – slowing down the tempo of the game and attempting to keep control in midfield with effective substitutions of their own after Donyell Malen – fresh off the bench himself – headed home unmarked in the area.
Frustration began to creep in with every passing minute as you could feel the supporters’ tension, waiting for the all-important goal – which never came. An unfortunate dismissal met Marc Bola‘s late sliding challenge on goalscorer Kongolo, which was harsh considering he’d won the ball, but slipped and caught the midfielder during the follow-through.
The inclusion of Ben Sheaf was good to see, although a surprise he didn’t start in the holding midfield position: providing assured quality and protection for the defenders behind him, it was just one of many positives to take from the game despite the result. With the likes of Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thierry Henry – as well as Arséne Wenger himself watching on, it was clear to see that the future in north London is definitely bright: City were just more defensively resolute in key moments, and ultimately clinical with their chances on-goal.