By Giuseppe Muro at Stamford Bridge
Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup adventure is over for another year after the young Gunners suffered a heart-breaking 2-1 defeat against Chelsea on Thursday.
With the game heading into extra-time at Stamford Bridge, Milan Lalkovic scored a last-gasp goal to send Chelsea into the Fifth Round and leave Steve Bould’s side to rue a disappointing display.
An own goal from Billy Clifford had put Arsenal ahead as early as the second minute but a second-half brace from Lalkovic turned the tie around to give Chelsea the spoils of a scrappy London derby and leave Arsenal to concentrate on the Academy League.
Nico Yennaris also suffered a nasty-looking injury to add to a bad night for the boys in red.
The manager was able to pick relative experience throughout his starting XI with Benik Afobe’s inclusion providing a pre-match boost after the young striker passed a late fitness test.
Jernade Meade returned from a back injury to make his first start in two months and Ignasi Miquel again captained the side.
Arsenal went ahead with the very first attack of the game.
Afobe’s trickery won a corner on the left and, after Oguzhan Ozyakup delivered, the ball somehow found its way into the far corner. Sead Hajrovic wheeled away but replays suggested the unfortunate Clifford got the last touch. Arsenal didn’t mind.
The goal proceeded a frenetic 20 minutes where the Gunners could have extended their advantage when Afobe tumbled in the area under a challenge from Nathaniel Chalobah. The referee waved play-on much to the amazement of the 7,000 fans packed into two sides of the ground.
After Arsenal’s bright start, Chelsea began to grow and only a wonderful one-handed save from Emiliano Martinez denied Daniel Pappoe’s looping header on 20 minutes.
Then came the incident no Arsenal fan will want to see. Yennaris went into a full-blooded challenge with George Saville and the defender come off worse. Play was stopped for a good five minutes as he left the field on a stretcher to a standing ovation. Josh Rees replaced him.
The delay in play sucked the life out of what, up to that point, had been a frenetic Cup tie. Arsenal played without their usual rhythm and tempo and Chelsea lacked the quality to create any substantial chances.
Nevertheless, Arsenal went into the break a goal up.
But barely four minutes of the second half had been played when Chelsea got themselves back on level terms, and Arsenal only had themselves to blame.
A mix-up at the back let in the lively Lalkovic who coolly slotted under Martinez from inside the area.
The game sauntered along at a lethargic pace with neither side creating too much in the way off clear-cut chances.
That was until the 67th minute. Bobby Devyne peeled away to the back post and somehow managed to miss the target from a yard with the goal at his mercy.
It was a huge let-off.
Then 11 minutes from time, against the run of play, skipper Miquel came within inches of putting Arsenal back in front.
Ozyakup cut a free kick back to the Spaniard and his left-footed effort deflected agonisingly wide.
Neither side seemed willing to risk too much in the final stages. With an extra 30 minutes nearing ever closer, a goal now would certainly win the tie.
Unfortunately, that goal was scored by a blue shirt with virtually the last kick of the game.
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