By Joe Brewin at Underhill
Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup campaign is over for another season after an extra-time exit at the hands of Derby County.
After a gritty 90 minutes with plenty of chances, Kane Richards’ strike in the first half of extra time proved decisive.
It was harsh on Steve Bould’s side, who had dominated the first half of normal time without capitalising on their opportunities.
Derby grew in the second period and those misses became costly as the Rams stole the tie in the added half-hour through lively striker Richards.
Bould was able to select a strong line-up for the occasion, with Reserves regular Martin Angha named among a powerful backline. Zak Ansah, Kyle Ebecilio, Jon Toral and Samir Bihmoutine have all been involved with Neil Banfield’s second-string in recent weeks and all four started.
Derby, meanwhile, included first-team hotshot Mason Bennett in their starting line-up - although the 15-year-old is still at school.
The Rams contained seven first-year scholars among their ranks in a youthful squad. But make no mistake, this was a good side that had notched impressive wins over Liverpool and Sunderland already this campaign.
Bould’s team were looking to make amends for their disappointing 3-0 defeat to Southampton last week and flew out of the traps.
Derby goalkeeper Mats Morch was forced into a number of key saves throughout the first period, the first of which arrived after just five minutes. Josh Rees’ cross from the right found Gnabry inside the box and the youngster’s volley forced the Norwegian into a fine stop.
Arsenal dominated the early exchanges and should have taken a golden opportunity just five minutes later. Toral’s delightfully floated ball into the area found the head of skipper Elton Monteiro, who could only head wide with the goal at his mercy.
The chances did not stop there. Ansah called Morch into action once more with a fine effort on the volley, before the striker’s glorious one-on-one opportunity was tipped wide by the goalkeeper.
In a frustrating half, Derby had their own chance to take the lead. Midfielder Andrew Dales picked up the ball inside the area, only to be foiled by the feet of Reice Charles-Cook.
It proved to be the visitors’ only real threat on goal in the first half. As Bould’s side continued to pour forward, more opportunities were squandered.
Toral’s delicate ball through the middle found Ebecilio, who forced a comfortable stop from Morch. But the Norwegian could only parry, with Ansah forcing another fine block at the back. Eventually the keeper rose highest to gather.
After a blistering opening half hour the young Gunners seemed run out of steam in the final 15 minutes as the visitors finally found a foothold. All the same, Derby had their goalkeeper to thank for a level scoreline at the break.
Unsurprisingly, he was called into immediate action after the restart. Rees’ pin-point cross found the head of Gnabry, whose awkward bouncing effort was tipped wide brilliantly by Morch.
Charles-Cook was forced into a pair of smart saves soon after. The first was a deft tip over the bar from Andrew Dales’ spectacular volley, before the goalkeeper flung himself to his right to palm wide Niall Dawkins’ fierce strike.
The 17-year-old was on hand again when Bihmoutine sold him short with a header, making himself big to deny Dawkins once more.
The first goal was becoming increasingly crucial - and Derby were on the front foot.
Charles-Cook proved valuable once more with just seven minutes left on the clock when he tipped away Bennett’s difficult free-kick.
It had been a tale of two halves, and a tale a two goalkeepers. And Morch did force the extra period with a fine stop in the last minute from Ebecilio’s strike.
Chuba Akpom and Philip Roberts were thrown on immediately as Bould played his final cards in an attempt to wear down the dogged visitors.
But, in the 97th minute, disaster struck for the young Gunners. Monteiro, who had performed so admirably up to that point, was robbed of possession by Richards, who burst forward and made no mistake with a fine finish into the bottom corner.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Arsenal but a moment they could not dwell on. Substitute Roberts headed over with 15 minutes left as Bould’s side pushed for the equaliser.
But it simply never arrived as Derby defended their slender advantage defiantly to book their place in the Fourth Round of the competition.
Disappointment for Arsenal’s youngsters then, but with Academy Premier League honours still up for grabs, there is plenty still to fight for.
- Wynter 79 Yellow Card
- Monteiro (C)
- Ebecilio Yellow Card
- Rees 92
- Gnabry 92
- Akpom 92
- Olsson 79
- Roberts 92 Yellow Card
- Dawkins Yellow Card
- Sharpe 58
- Galinski (C)
- Hughes 109
- Richards Goal!
- Bennett 97
- Berry 58
- Thomas 109
- Hanson 97