Friday promises to be quite a day for Chelsea Football Club.
The first team can clinch the Premier League title with a win at West Brom and, if they do, it could cap a stunning double haul, as Jody Morris’ Under-18s will host Reading at Cobham two hours earlier looking for the win that will see them win their own league.
A battling 3-1 win over Arsenal on Tuesday morning set the young Blues up for a first league crown in 33 years, a success that would follow the Premier League Southern Section and the FA Cup in what would be an historic treble for the academy.
Without four England Under-17 Internationals but with almost a full FA Youth Cup squad at their disposal, Chelsea had to work hard for their reward, going 2-0 up before half time courtesy of Cole Dasilva and Trevoh Chalobah, and when former player Eddie Nketiah reduced the arrears early in the second half, the challenge ahead was clear. They dug in, saw their fair share of luck and, when Martell Taylor-Crossdale fired in a third twelve minutes from time, they had what they came for.
Arsenal had rampaged their way to the top of the table with emphatic wins over Liverpool, Blackburn and Manchester United, but were slow to start against a formidable Blues team, perhaps due to a late arrival following problems with their coach. Headers from Joseph Colley and Harvey St Clair went wide whilst serving notice, and the breakthrough came within a quarter of an hour, Dasilva bouncing an accurate finish past Joao Virginia from Dujon Sterling’s cross.
Sterling himself might have doubled that lead after playing a smart one-two to create an opening, but Virginia’s brave intervention kept Arsenal on terms. With Reiss Nelson then flashing a free kick wide and Joe Willock uncharacteristically losing his touch when well-placed in the Chelsea area, the visitors grew in stature and in the threat carried.
Top scorer Nketiah curled wide after getting the better of Chalobah, but the misses were beginning to add up, costing them dearly when Chalobah himself met Mason Mount’s corner unchallenged at the near post to head Chelsea into a two-goal lead. Still they didn’t learn though, and Nelson was guilty of an error of judgement when, given the ball straight from goalkeeper Marcin Bułka’s mis-kick without a defender in sight, he opted to feed Nketiah, who was in an offside position when applying the finishing touch.
2-0 it stayed at half time, but a determined and up-tempo start to the second period saw Arsenal eventually find the back of the net, Nketiah poaching from close range after Joe Willock had gotten the better of Joseph Colley wide on the right.
Josh Grant had replaced Sterling at the break and, with a red tide pressing further and further forward, Morris also introduced Luke McCormick to the midfield to add a more combative presence. Arsenal’s own substitute, Vlad Dragomir, had two or three decent openings himself, coming closest with a lovely volley that skimmed the top of Bułka’s crossbar.
Chelsea switched to a back four and a diamond midfield when Taylor-Crossdale came on for Dasilva, and it was a game-changing moment. Seeking to make the most of their counter-attacking opportunities, they put the game to bed as a contest in the 78th minute when Ugbo patiently waited for the opening to develop before feeding Taylor-Crossdale, who settled himself with a touch before drilling low and hard past Virginia for his 21st goal of the season.
Dragomir narrowly failed to connect with Nketiah’s cross late on for an increasingly desperate Arsenal, who will have felt that their performance warranted at least a draw that would have left their fate in their own hands, but Chelsea showed the sheer will and determination to succeed that has served them so well over the years, and they now have the chance to make it a double – and a treble – this Friday.
Chelsea: Bułka, James, T.Chalobah, Colley, C.Dasilva (Taylor-Crossdale), Gallagher, Sterling (Grant), Maddox, Ugbo, Mount (c), St Clair (McCormick)
Subs not Used: Cumming, C.Brown
Goals: C.Dasilva, Chalobah, Taylor-Crossdale
Arsenal: Virginia, Osei-Tutu, T.Bola, McGuane (c), Olowu, Medley, J.Willock (Fortune), Da Silva, Nketiah, Nelson, Malen (Dragomir)
Subs not Used: Gilmour, Crean, Omole
Booked: Bola, Dragomir