By Declan Taylor
Twenty four hours after the first team’s stirring comeback in the FA Cup proper, Steve Bould’s boys came from behind at Eastlands to secure a vital first-leg advantage in their Youth Cup Semi Final against Manchester City.
After a spirited first-half performance from the home side, Alex Nimely-Tchuimeni handed them a deserved lead four minutes before the break.
But Arsenal, who had to come from behind in Round Three and the Quarter Final, emerged from the interval with renewed vigour and vibrancy. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, so often Arsenal’s hero in this competition, rose highest at the front post to nod Jack Wilshere’s corner past Joe Clegg in City’s goal.
Within 10 minutes, the comeback was complete when Gilles Sunu wriggled into the area and planted a right-footed effort across the keeper to send City to their first defeat of the season.
In truth, it could and perhaps should have been more. Luke Ayling, Emmanuel-Thomas and Francis Coquelin were all denied by the woodwork with Clegg well beaten.
But, although nothing was decided on the night, for now it’s advantage Arsenal. The pair will cross swords at Emirates Stadium next month.
After such a domineering display at White Hart Lane in the Quarter Final, Bould made no changes to the starting line-up that faced Spurs. Sunu and Watt led the line in an orthodox 4-4-2 with Wilshere and Emmanuel-Thomas on the wings. As usual, Coquelin and Frimpong provided the legs in the engine room.
Ayling and Kyle Bartley continued at the centre of defence with Craig Eastmond and Tom Cruise occupying the right and left respectively.
After turning out in front of nearly 20,000 at a vociferous White Hart Lane two weeks ago, it was an eerily quiet Eastlands that greeted the Gunners this time around.
Despite the flat atmosphere, the visitors started with real urgency. In fact, the Cup holders didn’t have a meaningful touch of the ball in the first five minutes. But City, who hadn’t failed to win a home game since November, soon found their feet.
Kieran Trippier, deployed on the right of City’s defence, enjoyed a lot of space down the flank and caused some early problems with a string of testing deliveries.
Then left back Greg Cunningham got in on the act spearing a vicious freekick against James Shea’s crossbar.
Nimely, wearing Robinho’s number 10 shirt, threatened with similar pace and trickery to the Brazilian. In the 16th minute he spanked a strike inches over the crossbar before crossing well for Dedryk Boyata to nod wide.
In the end it took the lively Liberian 41 minutes to find the breakthrough.
The striker raced onto a long up-and-over before drilling the ball inside Shea’s front post. In keeping with the recent FA Cup theme, there was a hint of offside about the goal.
It was an almost complete role reversal after the break with Arsenal assuming the upper hand while City looked jittery.
Frimpong, Wilshere and Ayling all went close from distance as the Gunners dominated without carving out any real chances.
But, just like at the Lane, a well worked set-piece routine brought Bould’s boys level.
Wilshere’s in-swinging corner found Emmanuel Thomas at the front post and he squeezed his header past the keeper. The replays showed that the last touch may have come off a City head but the goal was all the captain’s doing.
Before the clash, Bould had labelled his side ‘natural-born winners’ and suddenly Arsenal assumed that mantle.
Minutes later Ayling again struck the woodwork from another Wilshere delivery before the visitors got their deserved winner through Sunu eight minutes from the end.
The last time the Under-18s left Manchester they had been dumped out of the FA Youth Cup in the cruellest of fashions by Manchester United two season ago. This time, they emerged with their tails up and one foot in the final.
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