Ben GROUNDS at the Emirates Stadium
Arsenal booked their place in the FA Youth Cup semi-finals by overcoming Everton 3-1 at the Emirates on Monday evening.
Chuba Akpom’s strike sandwiched by a Jack Jebb double ensured the Gunners’ scholars achieved the same outcome as their first-team counterparts over the Toffees at the weekend.
Joe Williams’ strike for the Blues three minutes into the second half proved to be a mere consolation as Everton exited the competition at the quarter-final stage for the second successive season.
Carl Laraman’s side never looked in doubt of failing to progress to the final four of the much-fêted competition once they had overcome an early period of sustained pressure from the visitors.
Kevin Sheedy’s side, who had beaten the Gunners on Merseyside at the end of January, enjoyed greater possession in the opening stages, and were unlucky not to be ahead as they threatened Josh Vickers’ goal on numerous occasions early on.
First, captain Gethin Jones made inroads down the right; the Welshman’s cross was met by the header of Callum Dyson, but Vickers made a smart save down to his right.
Then Ryan Ledson released Jones again down the right flank, and Courtney Duffus drew Vickers into tipping the ball over from the resulting cross.
Further efforts by Ledson and Oliver Shannon required some last-ditch defending from the Gunners’ back line, as the visitors showed signs of the style of play that has become synonymous with the first-team under Roberto Martinez.
Arsenal gradually worked their way into the game and on 25 minutes had their first notable move, as Gedion Zelalem combined with full-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill to force Toffees’ centre-half Curtis Langton into a desperate piece of defending at his near post.
It was a warning sign the Blues failed to heed, as moments later, the Gunners were ahead.
Zelalem, who had begun to have an increasing influence on the game, threaded a through-ball to Jack Jebb, and when the midfielder was brought down by keeper Russell Griffiths, he duly picked himself up to provide Arsenal with the lead from the penalty spot.
Everton looked rattled and were it not for good goal-keeping by Griffiths, Zelalem would have doubled the home side’s advantage three minutes later. It was only to be a short reprieve for the Toffees, however, as five minutes short of the interval, captain Chuba Akpom made it 2-0.
Another trademark slide-rule pass from an Arsenal shirt released the burly striker, and having shrugged off the challenge of James Graham, he unleashed an unstoppable left-footed drive high, beyond the reach of Griffiths and into the roof of the net.
The crossbar came to Everton’s rescue in first-half stoppage time when Ainsley Maitland-Niles had Griffiths beaten all ends up by his right-footed shot from 25 yards.
Everton were in need of a swift response and no sooner had the second half commenced that the visitors had halved the deficit. Substitute Michael Donohue’s centre was headed back across goal by Tyrone Duffus for the unmarked Joe Williams to prod the ball home from 6 yards.
The Merseysiders, who had defeated Brighton, Birmingham City and Sheffield United in order to progress to the quarter-finals, failed to capitalise further on their positive start to the second 45 minutes, and it was Arsenal who regained the initiative thereafter.
Clever interplay on the hour-mark between Glenn Kamara and Jebb invited the latter to have a shot on goal, and when Griffiths parried the initial effort, Akpom looked set for his second of the evening. With the goal at his mercy, the crossbar came to Everton’s rescue once more.
The hosts would not rue that missed opportunity for long, as with 64 minutes gone, Jebb provided a moment of true class that was worthy of deciding any cup tie.
From 25 yards, he dispatched a curling right-footed free-kick over the Everton wall and away from the stationary Griffiths to regain Arsenal’s two-goal cushion.
This time, there would be no way back for the Toffees, who had knocked their opponents out of last year’s competition at the fifth round stage. Instead, it was Arsenal who looked the more likelier of adding a fourth as Akpom continued to cause no end of problems to the Everton defence.
It was his fearful run that nearly led to Graham putting through his own net, but a combination of Griffiths and post kept the ball out.
The best chance for the visitors in the remaining minutes fell to Tyrone Duffus, after substitute Harry Charsley and Jones had linked up on the right, but the striker lost composure and blazed over from six yards.
Whilst there is the small matter of an Academy League match at Norwich this weekend, many of these young Gunners will now be rested with next week’s trip to Barcelona for the UEFA Youth League fixture in mind – safe in the knowledge they are one step closer to emulating the success of the 2009 Youth Cup-winning side.
Arsenal: Vickers, Moore, Ormonde-Ottewill, Kamara, Siemann, Pleguezuelo, Maitland-Niles, Zelalem, Akpom (c), Jebb, Iwobi Unused: Huddart, Wright, Dobson, Willock, Lipman
Everton: Griffiths, Jones (c), Thorniley, Graham, Langton, Shannon (Charsley 64), Dyson (Donohue 43), Williams (Brewster 76), C. Duffus, Ledson, T. Duffus Unused: Hewelt, Connolly