By Giuseppe Muro
Arsenal are through to the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup after an emphatic 6-1 victory over Darlington at Underhill on Tuesday night.
Chuks Aneke was the star of the show, scoring a magnificent hat-trick and laying on another three in front of the watching Arsène Wenger to ensure Steve Bould’s side enjoyed a comfortable start to their Cup campaign.
Tougher tests no doubt lie ahead but this was a clinical and professional display by Arsenal - led by the sublime Aneke.
Bould was able to field a starting line-up with copious Reserve experience mixed with the youthfulness of four Academy regulars.
The 200 Arsenal fans or so who made their way to a frosty Barnet were delighted to see Afobe named in the starting XI after he was allowed to return specially for the game by loan side Huddersfield. He was supported by the ever-willing Aneke and, between them, the pair tormented Darlington throughout.
Despite the scoreline, the side from the north-east started brightly and Scott Harrison twice volleyed over in the opening five minutes.
But ten minutes in, Bould’s side showed their superior quality to go ahead with their first meaningful attack of the game. Afobe left his full back for dead down the left before getting to the byline and pulling the ball across the six-yard box. Aneke was on hand and from barely a yard he couldn’t miss.
Afobe raced through and twice went close to extending the lead before Darlington equalised after 18 minutes through Rob Ramshaw who poked home from a yard. At that point, you had to say the away side were well worth their goal.
But then Arsenal turned it up a notch.
Aneke turned provider after 20 minutes when he released Afobe over the top and in a foot race with a Darlington defender there was only ever one winner. Afobe latched onto it and after Nick Thomson rushed off his line he calmly lofted the ball over the goalkeeper to put Arsenal back in front.
Two minutes later it was three and Aneke was at it again. Oguzhan Ozyakup delivered a corner to the near post and the striker rose highest to powerfully head home his second.
Arsenal had to wait 15 minutes for the fourth but when it came - boy was it worth the wait.
Aneke and Afobe were the tormentors of the Darlington defence once again with a wonderful flowing move. The pair exchanged a couple of one-touch passes and Afobe released his team-mate on the right of the area before receiving the return and sweeping the ball home.
Aneke sealed his hat-trick and Arsenal’s fifth two minutes into the second period when he lashed into the roof of the net from close range. By this point he had been at the heart of everything Arsenal had done and his three goals hardly did his performance justice.
Afobe then missed a string of chances to complete his own hat-trick through a combination of good goalkeeping and wayward finishing before he was brought off with 20 minutes remaining.
Meanwhile Aneke showed his delight when his number didn’t come up to be replaced – he was enjoying this too much.
Boateng added a sixth on 67 minutes with a neat finish from close range and the score could have been even more by the end.
Josh Rees came off the bench and went close on three occasions but was denied each time by decent stops from the ever-needed Thomson.
In the end, Aneke and Arsenal had to settle for six.
- Miquel (C)
- Boateng Goal!
- Afobe 70 Goal! Goal!
- Ebecilio 70
- Neita 75
- Aneke Goal! Goal! Goal!
- Bihmoutine 70
- Rees 70
- Monakana 75
- Hutchinson (C)
- Snook 45
- Collins 78
- Ramshaw 64 Goal!
- Burrell 78
- Grainger 64
- Marshall 45