Having guided his side to the final against West Ham United, Jack Wilshere is now dreaming of once again getting his hands on the FA Youth Cup, having done so in style back in 2009.
Our seventh and final triumph in the competition came via a 6-2 aggregate win over Liverpool, and just like this season capped off 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 (read more about that game).
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 Wilshere penalty, before Alex Kacaniklic threw a spanner in the works by volleying home for the visitors.
After the break, Sanchez Watt strode clear to add our third, 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 our Young 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 with 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 us a 2-1 win on the night. 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 us 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 were very much England’s team to beat at under-18 level.
What they said
Steve Bould: “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: “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 nine 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.”
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