By Matt Fortune
The Fourth Round and the holders Liverpool are next on the agenda for Arsenal Under-18s after a confident and ultimately dominant display against Burnley in the FA Youth Cup.
Henri Lansbury hit three goals in arguably his best performance of the season, with Mark Randall and Kieran Gibbs grabbing the others. Adam Kay had given the Clarets an early advantage but they were second best thereafter.
Manager Steve Bould named the strongest side available to him. The absence of Fran Merida (loan), and Nacer Barazite and Rhys Murphy (injured) would have warmed the insides of a Burnley team that have reached the Fifth-Round in both of the last two seasons.
Despite their midweek involvement in the Carling Cup squad, Gavin Hoyte and Randall were both named in the starting line-up, the former donning the armband. Gibbs and Lansbury completed a quartet of players boasting first-team experience.
The impact of all four would be significant.
Vince Overson's young side boasted an impressive home record having lost just twice all season at the Fraser Eagle Stadium. A crowd of nearly 1,000 certainly believed that maybe, just maybe their stats could be the same come full-time.
A heavy pitch was far from ideal for the travelling Gunners. Within three minutes it would prove telling.
Unable to judge the roll of the ball, Arsenal hesitated on the edge of their box allowing Alex-Ray Harvey to take aim. His blistering drive cannoned up at the unsuspecting Hoyte. Handball, or so the referee thought. Captain Kay took responsibility from 12 yards, sending Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way.
Unfortunate in the manner by which they trailed, Arsenal's way back in was equally harsh on their opponents 11 minutes later.
A long looping cross from the left seemingly offered little by way of threat. However Clarets stopper Daniel MacDonald conspired to fumble the ball right at the feet of Lansbury. A simple task from six-yards out was finished comfortably.
The slice of luck did well to invigorate the Gunners. Prompted by the guile of Randall in midfield they began to ooze Premier League class. Avoiding the sodden central areas, Arsenal picked holes on both flanks.
For all their craft, it was the hard graft of Gibbs that eventually created the second. Superbly wrangling possession by the right-hand byline, he meandered into the box before picking out Randall. In splendid isolation 18-yards out, the youngster settled himself and with rifle-sight accuracy directed the ball into the top corner.
In the ascendancy, Arsenal had every chance of putting the tie to bed by half-time. The crossbar prevented Randall from scoring but a third goal duly arrived four minutes before the break. A simple back-to-front hoof forward by Lansbury was seized on by the energetic Gibbs. Bearing down on goal the youngster dallied allowing for Christopher Lynch to nick the ball. Somehow it squirmed away from keeper and defender, allowing the Arsenal man to squeeze it home.
A 3-1 lead at the break, and the tie was effectively over as a contest.
James Dunne, the antithesis of the flamboyant Randall, was having a fine evening. Occasionally deserted by his more creative midfield partners, the 18-year-old anchored the centre of the park expertly.
Had it not been for the intervention of MacDonald the fourth, fifth and sixth may well have arrived inside 50 minutes. Sanchez Watt, Gibbs and Abu Ogogo were all thwarted by the pint-sized stopper.
However a three-goal advantage was soon installed. Randall again was key.
So blessed with talent, the midfielder was demonstrating exactly why he is on the fringes of Arsène Wenger's first-team. Dinking the ball over two players in a way reminiscent of Matt Le Tissier's famous goal against Newcastle, he eventually clipped a pass across the box to Lansbury who volleyed home impressively.
A flurry of yellow cards for the hosts around the hour mark did little to upset the rhythm of the Gunners, as Watt again went close.
A swift break brought about the fifth and Lansbury's hat-trick, the England Under-17 international profiting after the pace of Gibbs and Watt had again struck fear into the Clarets back-line. His finish was greeted by a muted celebration - the job had been done long before.
Substitute Gilles Sunu had time to waste an opportunity of a sixth and Jay Thomas, another replacement, went close with a speculative chip from 25 yards out. The game had become that sort of spectacle. Burnley, for all their tireless effort, were now labouring while Arsenal had taken their foot off the accelerator.
However, at the final whistle, those that remained cheered a Gunners outfit who on the evidence of tonight will take some stopping. Bould's boys have fired a warning shot to anyone unlucky enough to cross their path - including Liverpool.
Henri Lansbury scores our first
Mark Randall makes it 2-1
Kieran Gibbs nets our third
Gibbs celebrates his strike
Lansbury scores his second
Lansbury sees his shot fly in for 4-1
Lansbury completes his hattrick
Sanchez Watt in action
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- Hoyte 79
- Watt 79
- Gibbs 74
- Bartley 79
- Emmanuel-Thomas 74
- Sunu 79