(Arsenal win 6-2 on aggregate)
By Declan Taylor
Arsenal are into the FA Youth Cup Final for the first time since 2001 after emphatically dispatching holders Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Gunners held a slender 2-1 advantage from the first leg and it took Sanchez Watt just 34 seconds to nudge his side further in front.
City were stunned by the strike and it got worse for them as Arsenal plundered three more within the first 31 minutes. First Jack Wilshere squeezed home a penalty before Kyle Bartley nodded home his second Youth Cup goal.
Watt completed the rout 90 seconds later with a smart finish from 10 yards.
Ahmad Benali pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half time but the tie was effectively over. And although City created the better chances after the interval, Arsenal’s place in the Final was all but assured.
Next stop for Bould’s boys? Probably Liverpool. The Merseysiders currently hold a 3-0 first-leg advantage in the other Semi-Final.
Bould kept faith in the XI that secured the slender advantage at Eastlands in March. In fact, there was only one change to the whole 16-man squad with Oguzhan Ozyakup replacing Roarie Deacon. City boss Jim Cassell followed suit by making no changes to his first-leg line-up.
The Arsenal manager’s only injury concern ahead of the clash surrounded Wilshere but he shook off an ankle injury to make his first start since completing 90 minutes in Manchester. The 17-year-old, who notched for the first team in the Carling Cup this season, was the only player on the pitch to have previously scored at Emirates Stadium.
However, within a minute of kick-off, Watt had joined him on that esteemed list. The striker raced onto Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ up-and-over and, with no flag forthcoming, confidently slotted a low strike past Clegg.
City replied with a flurry of corner kicks but, just as they were beginning to find their feet, they found themselves 2-0 down on the night after 20 minutes.
Once again Watt was heavily involved, skipping past Clegg just inside the area. And, when the keeper’s hand caught the striker’s leg, referee Keith Woolmer had little choice but to point to the spot.
Wilshere doubled his Emirates Stadium tally from the spot, squeezing his strike inside the post via Clegg’s hand.
And the fairytale start showed no signs of abating.
Nine minutes later, the towering Bartley met Wilshere’s inch-perfect in-swinging corner eight yards out to make it three. It was an extra-special moment for the centre-half who grew up as a Man United fan.
If City weren’t out of it at 3-0 down (5-1 on aggregate) they surely were 90 seconds later. This time Watt picked the pocket of Reece Wabara just inside the area before sliding Arsenal’s fourth underneath Clegg. Arsenal, in truth, were in the Final and there was barely half an hour on the clock.
City hadn’t lost all season before Bould’s boys turned up at Eastlands five weeks ago and, despite their defecit, they still looked very dangerous on the front foot.
Robbie Mak almost picked out first-leg goalscorer Alex Nimely with a bobbling cross but Craig Eastmond nipped in brilliantly to deny the Liberian. Then, James Shea pulled off a fine double-save to deny captain Kieran Trippier three minutes before the break.
Nimely was withdrawn in first-half stoppage time and his replacement, Jack Redshaw, made an instant impression. The 18-year-old waltzed through a string of Arsenal challenges before crossing for Abdisalam Ibrahim to sweep home from eight yards.
It was perhaps the faintest glimmer of hope for City, but they still had a mountain to climb in the second half.
And their attempt was valiant.
The visitors spent most of the half’s first 10 minutes testing Arsenal with a series of corners. But although Trippier’s deliveries were decent, none were truly effective. Redshaw should have done better when a bobbling corner broke to him two yards out but the substitute, on the stretch, could only skew his strike into the side netting.
Arsenal on the other hand were restricted to counter-attacks and long-range efforts. Wilshere twice shot narrowly over and Gilles Sunu could only cross tamely when Arsenal were three against one after a particularly rapid breakaway.
In the end Arsenal were happy to slow the tempo, safe in the knowledge that their explosive opening had paved the way for a relatively comfortable progression into the Final.
There was time for Luke Ayling to nod a looping Redshaw effort off the line in the closing stages but it wouldn’t have made much difference anyway.
Arsenal are in the Final.
- Bartley Goal!
- Cruise 78
- Watt Goal! Goal!
- Wilshere Goal!
- Emmanuel-Thomas (C)
- Sunu 78
- Afobe 78
- Evina 78
- Trippier (C)
- Trippier (C)
- Ibrahim Yellow Card
- Chantler 81
- Mak 72
- Tutte Yellow Card
- Benali Goal!
- Nimely-Tchuimeni 45
- Redshaw 45
- Cieslewitz 72
- Guidetti 81