They didn’t just win it - they won it in style.
Arsenal’s superb under-18s secured the club’s seventh FA Youth Cup in 2009 with a 6-2 aggregate win over Liverpool - capping a thrilling run to the final with a convincing showing when it mattered most.
In front of 33,662 at Emirates Stadium, the Gunners did the majority of the job in the first leg - winning 4-1, just as they had against Manchester City in the last four.
Responding to a vivacious Friday night atmosphere in N5, Steve Bould’s youngsters raced into a two-goal lead through Frenchman Gilles Sanu and a penalty by Jack Wilshere, before Alex Kacaniklic threw a spanner in the works by volleying home for the visitors.
After the break, though, Sanchez Watt strode clear to add a third for Arsenal, before inspirational captain Jay Emmanuel-Thomas leapt highest to glance Henri Lansbury’s corner home.
Rhys Murphy saw a goal controversially ruled out for offside, but a three-goal cushion still set the Gunners fair for their trip to Anfield four days later.
As wonderful chance would have it, that second leg fell on May 26, exactly 20 years since the incredible occurrences of Anfield ’89. Could anything have been more apt than Arsenal and Liverpool sides facing each other, with a trophy at stake and at the same venue, on this anniversary?
In truth, the match did not quite contain the tension and nail-biting drama of its predecessor - a fact helped by Watt’s 25th-minute goal, his fourth in three FA Youth Cup games, which left the hosts a real mountain to climb.
They gave it a go and Lauri Dalla Valle equalised on the night just after half-time - but an own goal by Daniel Ayala handed Arsenal a 2-1 win. They hadn’t sparkled at Anfield but the sum total of their performance over the two legs had more than merited their grip on the biggest prize in English youth football.
The celebrations at the end of the night were well deserved. The season’s run, from a tense early win over highly-fancied Aston Villa, via resounding victories over Sunderland and Wolves, through to a dramatic last-eight win at Spurs and emphatic triumph against Manchester City, had already seen the Gunners pass tests against the very best in the country - and their performance in the final, which sealed a league and cup double, had proved for sure that they are very much England’s team to beat at under-18 level.
WHAT THEY SAID
Steve Bould Coach“For these kids it has topped a great, great year. We know we are not in a results environment when we set out at the start of the season, but the way they have performed all year, they have been head and shoulders above most of the other teams in the country. I think we’ve got excellent players and this is the icing on the cake.”
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas Captain“It’s a great feeling to win. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We’ve been talking about it all year and it has finally happened. We will go down in history now. I think the last time we won it was 2001 - quite a long time ago - so it’s good to have our name on the trophy again.”
Jack Wilshere “If you think about it, we’ve been together since we were nonie and we’ve wanted to win things together ever since then. Now we have gone and won the Youth Cup, it’s unbelievable. We knew we had the strength in depth in this team to do it and it’s just great really to win the double.”
Henri Lansbury “This is the fourth time I’ve played in the FA Youth Cup so it’s great to finally win. This is my last year plain at this level, so it’s a relief! It’s the perfect way to cap my time as an under-18, it’s one to keep and one to remember. Looking back I think we won it in the first leg after really getting a good total at the Emirates.”
FIVE OF THE BEST MOMENTS
You’ve read about the final but what about these highlights from the young Gunners’ wonderful Youth Cup run?
Murphy’s loreAston Villa had taken the lead twice against the Gunners in the third-round tie at Villa Park, but Arsenal’s sharp goalscorer converted twice from close range to keep them in the tie before Jay Emmanuel-Thomas stole the winner.
Sunu strikes goldFrench striker Gilles Sunu only entered the fray in the 35th minute of the fourth-round clash with Wolves after an injury to Murphy, and he more than proved a point by firing in a devastating hat-trick, leading Arsenal to a 3-1 win.
Late show at the LaneFor drama, perhaps this was the highlight of the competition. With the tie against Spurs finally poised at 1-1-, Emmanuel-Thomas fired home to the delight of 1,500 Gooners behind the goal at White Hart Lane - and Murphy made the game safe moments later.
Henri’s spot onIn 2005, Henri Lansbury had missed a decisive penalty as Arsenal tumbled out of the competition against Brentford - this time, he was al the more clinical in scoring from the spot twice in a convincing 4-0 win at Sunderland in the last 16.
Off to a flyerSteve Bould’s troops didn’t hang about in their semi-final second-leg match with Manchester City at Emirates Stadium. Sanchez Watt’s brace, Jack Wilshere’s penalty and a Kyle Bartley strike put them 4-0 up within 31 minutes with a City consolation doing little to dampen spirits.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
James Shea James SheaAFC WimbledonJames joined AFC Wimbledon on a free transfer in July 2014 and has since become their first-choice goalkeeper, starting the League Two side’s FA Cup third-round defeat against Liverpool in January.
Craig Eastmond Craig EastmondFree agentCraig made 10 first-team appearances for Arsenal before finding regular football at Colchester United. The midfielder, who can also play at right back, is now a free agent, having most recently appeared for Yeovil Town.
Thomas Cruise Thomas CruiseFree agentThomas started Arsenal’s final Champions League group-stage game against Olympiacos in 2009 before being released. The left back is currently unattached after his three-year spell at Torquay United ended.
Kyle Bartley Kyle BartleySwansea CityKyle left Arsenal in 2012 after making two appearances for the Gunners and enjoying successful loan spells at Sheffield United and Rangers. The centre back joined Swansea City, where he has found regular football in the Premier League.
Francis Coquelin Francis CoquelinArsenalFrancis had struggled for regular game time at Arsenal before this season, but the combative French midfielder has now established himself as a key component of Arsene Wenger’s first-team squad.
Luke Ayling Luke AylingBristol CityLuke joined Yeovil Town in 2010 and went on to make just less than 200 appearances for the Glovers before joining Bristol City. This season the defender helped the Robins win League One and secure automatic promotion to the Championship.
Henri Lansbury Henri LansburyNottingham ForestHenri made five first-team appearances for Arsenal before joining Nottingham Forest in 2012. The former England Under-21 midfielder has played more than 100 times for the Championship side since.
Jack Wilshere Jack WilshereArsenalJack became Arsenal’s youngest-ever league debutant at the age of 16 years and 256 days, before becoming the 10th-youngest player to be capped by England. The midfielder has remained a regular for club and country since, helping the Gunners lift the FA Cup in 2014.
Gilles Sunu Gilles SunuEvianGilles made four appearances for the first team before joining Lorient in Ligue 1, where he made 90 appearances. The former France Under-21 striker moved to Evian at the start of 2015.
Sanchez Watt Sanchez WattFree agentSanchez played three League Cup games for Arsenal, scoring on his debut against West Bromwich Albion, before joining Colchester United in 2013. The forward most recently helped Colchester avoid relegation from League One.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas Jay Emmanuel-ThomasFree agentJay made five appearances for the first team before joining Ipswich Town and playing regularly. The forward is now a free agent, having most recently helped Bristol City secure promotion to the Championship.
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