By Declan Taylor
The FA Youth Cup belongs to Arsenal for the first time in eight years after a professional 2-1 victory at Anfield secured an emphatic 6-2 aggregate scoreline against Liverpool in the Final.
Perhaps the damage was done four days ago in the first leg at Emirates Stadium but Steve Bould’s boys knew there was work to do on Merseyside.
Sanchez Watt scored the first goal, racing through the centre to prod a shot in off the post in the 24th minute. Liverpool stuck at their task and grabbed an equaliser six minutes after the break through Lauri Dalla Valle. But Arsenal had the last word when Daniel Ayala deflected Watt's cross into the net.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas lifted the trophy exactly 20 years to the day when his famous namesake, Michael, wrote his name in Club folklore with a dramatic title-clinching goal at the same stadium. Steve Bould, a player that night, was the proud coach on this occasion.
The former centre-back made one change to the side that started at Emirates Stadium four days ago. That night, Emmanuel Frimpong hobbled off after 15 minutes with Watt coming in to replace him. At Anfield, it was a similar story.
Frimpong failed to shrug off his groin injury so Jack Wilshere dropped into central midfield with Watt partnering Gilles Sunu up front in an orthodox 442.
After turning out in front of over 33,000 at the Emirates, it was nowhere near as many at Anfield but the ground’s old magic was still tangible. The Fields of Anfield Road and You’ll Never Walk Alone were both belted out with vigour before the sides lined up for the National Anthem. With nine English starters in Arsenal’s starting XI, it was apt.
Bould had been a little disappointed by his side’s “nervous” start in the first leg. But with a 4-1 aggregate advantage, there was no such danger this time around.
That said, the hosts started with purpose and could have opened the scoring in the ninth minute. Dalla Valle raced onto a slack back-pass by Tom Cruise but saw his crisp effort saved brilliantly by James Shea.
Liverpool skipper Joe Kennedy would thwart both Sunu and Wilshere with brave blocks before Arsenal took the lead in the 25th minute,
Watt, scorer of a wonderful third goal in the first leg, scurried onto Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ high up-and-over and nonchalantly prodded a low effort under the approaching Dean Bouzanis. It was the youngster’s fourth goal in three Youth Cup games – he has really come good at the season’s business end.
The goal may have felt like game, set and match for Arsenal but the home side weren’t about to give up. Tom Ince, whose dad Paul was in the crowd, forced Shea into a sprawling save with a skidding effort from the edge of the area just before the break.
A sprightly Liverpool emerged from the interval and they’d finally get some reward within seven minutes. Dalla Valle who ploughed a lonely furrow at times evaded a couple of challenges on the edge of the area before slotting a textbook finish past Shea from 15 yards.
Suddenly the Liverpool fans and players were alive again. It was 5-2 on aggregate and another goal may have started a few nerves jangling.
David Amoo was causing problems with some direct runs down the right-hand side but he was frustrated first by Bartley and then by the side-netting as the hosts searched for a lifeline.
In truth, Liverpool’s spell was brief and their new-found belief was rapidly ebbing away with each passing chance.
At the other end Arsenal were beginning to assume control once again. Wilshere curled a free-kick into Bouzanis’ midriff then Watt saw a vicious drive superbly tipped over by the Australian keeper.
20 minutes from time the Gunners’ finally grabbed their winner. Again Watt was the instigator with a typically bullish run to the byline. His low cut-back was heading towards Wilshere in the area but Ayala inadvertently diverted the ball home before it got to the young Englishman.
Emmanuel-Thomas almost iced the cake with a sizzling long-range strike but Bouzanis was at his very best to turn the ball over.
Liverpool pushed hard for an equaliser but Arsenal weren’t about to surrender their grip on the night’s victory.
It was testament to their professionalism that the young Gunners spent much of the closing stages keeping the ball in the Liverpool corners - although the Cup was certainly won, they wanted to win on the night too.
And they did. It’s official, for the first time since 2001, Arsenal’s youngsters are the best in the country.
Referee: Ian Smedley
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