Arsenal’s hopes of winning the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 2009 are still very much alive after they saw off their first challenge of this year’s competition by beating Reading 1-0 last night.
The victory was secured courtesy of a well-executed penalty from captain Dan Crowley, but there were some frightening moments at the end, not least when Reading missed a spot-kick of their own with the final kick of the game.
Arsenal were deserved winners on the balance of play, though, and Frans De Kat’s team will now face Royston Town at home in the Fourth Round, sparking suggestions that they could enjoy a lengthy run in this competition.
WIth several players absent Arsenal fielded a young side even by Youth Cup standards, with seven first-year scholars starting the game.
They still functioned cohesively as a unit, though, and were helped in that regard by the fact that many of the players have played together in the UEFA Youth League this season.
Stefan O’Connor, who featured in the Champions League against Galatasaray last week, was an important figure at the heart of the defence, whilst Chris Willock (pictured) produced some impressive moments on the left flank.
Goalkeeper Ryan Huddart, another who has been involved in the first-team set-up this season, had very few saves to make, with many of Reading’s opportunities going wide of the target.
Aside from Crowley’s penalty, which was awarded after Willock was fouled in the area, Arsenal also came close to scoring on several other occasions, most notably when Stephy Mavididi’s header rattled the crossbar. Kaylen Hinds, on as a substitute, also had a chance to find the net but directed his effort off target.
With the technical talents of Gedion Zelalem, Crowley and Willock to call upon, this team still has some star quality, even if it isn’t the strongest side to have represented the club in the Youth Cup down the years.
Arsenal’s youngsters are still in with a chance of winning another prestigious competition after reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Youth League. They will face Atletico Madrid away from home in a single-legged Last 16 tie, with many of the players who featured in last night’s Youth Cup fixture also likely to be involved against the Spanish side.
Having not won silverware for over four years, there could yet be something to celebrate for the Arsenal youth teams at the end of the season, but, as ever, the main objective is to get players involved in the first-team set-up and the past week has been very successful in that respect, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles having featured in both the Champions League and the Premier League.
Maitland-Niles impressed last season as a right-winger but the club see his future as a central-midfielder and it is in that position that he has thrived so far this campaign.