By Declan Taylor
Captain Jay-Emmanuel Thomas struck 15 minutes from time to secure Arsenal’s passage to the FA Youth Cup Fourth Round in England’s second city.
James Collins had handed Aston Villa an early lead but Rhys Murphy equalised from close range on the quarter-hour.
Collins scored his second of the game minutes before the interval but again Murphy cancelled out the strike before Emmanuel-Thomas swooped five minutes later.
The Arsenal team was brimming with first-team potential, in fact all four of their midfield had been involved in the Carling Cup in some capacity this season. England Under-19 captain Henri Lansbury occupied the right, Emmanuel-Thomas the left with Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong in the engine room.
Kyle Bartley, a near ever-present in Neil Banfield’s reserve side, was partnered by Luke Ayling in the centre of defence while Craig Eastmond and Tom Cruise occupied the flanks.
However, on an extremely chilly Birmingham evening, the visiting back line was caught cold in the fifth minute.
A deep Jack Dyer cross from the left wing was not dealt with properly by James Shea. The ball dropped to Collins, lurking around the penalty spot, who coolly slotted home with the goal gaping.
Arsenal, who had endured almost 15 minutes of constant Villa pressure, equalised with their first meaningful foray into the final third. Frimpong’s swirling effort from around 25 yards deceived Conor Devlin in the Villa goal. The keeper could only parry the effort straight to Murphy who nonchalantly chipped the ball over Devlin at the second attempt.
The goal galvanised the visitors - particularly at the back. Bartley and Ayling got to grips with Collins and Delfouneso and grew in stature as the half wore on.
And so did the rest of the yellow-shirted visitors.
Lansbury was proving a constant threat down the right-hand side and the 18-year-old had a strong shout for a penalty dismissed by referee Rathbone just after the half-hour mark.
Arsenal had another decent appeal for a spot-kick turned down six minutes later when Gilles Sunu connected well with a low Lansbury centre. The Frenchman’s effort appeared to strike a Villa arm en route to goal but Mr Rathbone again shook his head.
Bould’s side was the one in the ascendancy but they found themselves behind just five minutes before the break. Again it was Collins who, after fashioning himself an opening with some neat footwork just inside the area, drilled a low effort across Shea and into the bottom corner.
It was a disappointing end to an encouraging half from Arsenal.
The interval did nothing to quell the Gunners’ rhythm and they were unlucky not to equalise within five minutes of the restart. Direct running from Sunu then Emmanuel-Thomas carved through the Villa backline but the former was unable to get a meaningful shot away while the latter saw a fearsome drive well held by Devlin.
After looking dangerous in spells throughout the first half, the hosts were struggling to create anything in the second spell. A ballooned effort from Harry Forrester was all they could muster, while Arsenal attacked at will.
Murphy had already squandered a brilliant one-on-one opportunity midway through the second half but he made up for it five minutes later. A typical Arsenal breakaway found its way to Coquelin who drove to the byline before cutting back to Sanchez Watt. The substitute steered his effort straight at Devlin but there was Murphy again to pick up the pieces from five yards.
No sooner were the Gunners level, did they take the lead. Captain Emmanuel-Thomas turned superbly inside the area before squeezing a shot between Devlin and his left-hand post.
Delfouneso almost provided a sting in the Villa tail two minutes before time but Shea scurried off his line to block at the striker’s feet.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.