By Declan Taylor
Fit-again Rhys Murphy emerged from the bench to fire Arsenal into the Premier Academy League Final at Eastlands on Friday night.
Steve Bould’s boys had already dispatched Man City in the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final earlier this season but they had to work somewhat harder for their reward this time around.
Cedric Evina provided the perfect start with a calm finish on the quarter-hour but the hosts hit back just before the break through Abdi Ibrahim after some sustained pressure.
There would be no let-up after the interval with the home side going close through Robbie Mak, Omar Elabdellaoui and Chris Chantler.
But once again Arsenal Under-18s showed their true character and Murphy, back after almost two months on the sidelines, slammed home the visitors’ winner 14 minutes from time.
So with their Youth Cup Final berth already assured, the Gunners will contest the League title decider too. Their opponents will be either Sunderland or Tottenham away.
Bould made two changes to the side that so confidently overcame City in the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final second leg last month.
Jack Wilshere, Benik Afobe, Luke Freeman and Oguzhan Ozyakup, who were all in that Emirates Stadium squad, are currently in Germany for the Under-17s European Championship. Because of those omissions, most notably Wilshere, the pacy Evina was handed a start on the left of midfield. The other change came between the sticks, with Wojciech Szczesny replacing James Shea.
There was a sense of déjà vu about proceedings. Like in the Youth Cup first leg, the match was played in an eerily quiet Eastlands on a fresh Spring evening.
But in contrast Arsenal started very brightly.
Evina had already seen a dangerous low cross just evade the waiting red and white shirts before the Frenchman himself opened the scoring.
His compatriot Gilles Sunu was the architect, wriggling into the area and forcing a fine finger-tip save from Joe Clegg. However, Evina was perfectly placed to slot in the rebound on the swivel.
The goal seemed to galvanise the hosts and Arsenal would spend large spells of the first half under pressure.
Just past the half-hour, Luke Ayling bravely turned a sizzling Elabdellaoui drive away for a croner. Then, from the resulting flag-kick, the Norwegian youth international saw another long-range effort well held by Szczesny.
A minute later, the Polish keeper produced his very best to deny Ball. The young striker jinked onto his left foot before sending a curling effort towards the far corner. But somehow Szczesny, at full stretch, was able to claw the ball wide.
But a minute later City would get their breakthrough.
Mak drew a foul on the right-hand flank and Ibrahaim stooped to nod the resulting free-kick into Szczesny’s bottom corner.
The interval did nothing to quell City’s threat and again the Gunners had their keeper to thank for keeping the scores level five minutes into the half.
Ball volleyed Andrew Tutte’s delivery back across the goal-mouth but there was Szczesny at the onrushing Chantler’s feet to avert the danger. Minutes later, Bartley had to be perfectly stationed to turn Trippier’s low cross away from goal.
Twenty minutes from time, Ayling thwarted Mak twice in quick succession. First the young centre back scrambled back to nod the Slovakian’s looping effort off the line. Then he produced a tremendous last-ditch challenge a yard inside the box.
Despite the home side’s pressure, Bould had played his joker two minutes after the hour mark in the form of Murphy, who replaced Watt.
Within 14 minutes of his introduction, the striker, whose last appearance came for the Reserves on March 9, raced onto Evina’s cut-back to sweep his effort past Clegg with typical gusto.
Fourteen more minutes of City pressure was to follow but for all their possession clear-cut chances were few and far between.
Now, with their FA Youth Cup Final already in the bag, Bould’s boys are into the Final of the Premier Academy League. It has been quite a season already.
- Eastmond Yellow Card
- Cruise 45
- Watt 62
- Henderson 45
- Murphy 62
Man City Yth
- Ibrahim Goal!
- Elabdellaoui 82
- Benali 90
- Guidetti 82
- Helan 90