Chelsea defeated Arsenal 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night courtesy of a Charlie Colkett goal that ensured a 3-1 aggregate victory and a place in a third consecutive FA Youth Cup Final.
The Blues become the first club in some sixty years to achieve such a feat and will now face West London neighbours Fulham in a two legged Final at the end of April and start of May.
You can view Dan Davies’ always excellent photo gallery of the match HERE.
As far as single goal victories go, this was a mailing as Chelsea controlled the tempo from first to last and limited their hosts to perhaps one good chance all evening. It was a performance of professionalism that belied their youthful inexperience yet showed a considerable gulf between the two teams.
Coach Adi Viveash – who hasn’t failed to reach the final of this competition since moving up from Under-16 level – made one change from the team that earned a 2-1 advantage at Stamford Bridge last week as Jay Dasilva replaced the not-quite-fit Isaiah Brown on the left wing.
The rest of the team was familiar as Mitchell Beeney kept goal behind Andreas Christensen and Jake Clarke-Salter, with full backs Ola Aina and Fankaty Dabo swapping duties from last time out as Aina took over on the left. An all-conquering midfield of Colkett, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jordan Houghton continued, and Dasilva joined Alex Kiwomya wide of schoolboy forward Dom Solanke.
Arsenal made one change in personnel too as Jack Jebb replaced Dan Crowley in a like for like swap in an advanced creative role but they were more in need of a spark to galvanise a comeback. In front of almost 10,000 fans and defending a 100‰ Youth Cup record at the Emirates the stage was theirs but Chelsea refused to roll over and instead dictated terms from the off.
A teasing from from Kiwomya was the first sign of attacking intent and the Blues looked dangerous on both flanks with pace and flair in abundance. Aina then cut inside and fired a shot straight at goalkeeper Josh Vickers, who had been so impressive in the first leg, and he was called upon to make two trickier stops to deny a persistent Solanke from doggedly fighting his way through a crowded penalty area.
The first goal of the night would change the face of the tie and as Arsenal struggled to get key man Chuba Akpom involved beyond losing out to Dabo and Christensen, the visitors struck gold. Colkett danced his way into the box but was forced slightly wider than he might have liked, and decided to shoot anyway. The ball was smuggled underneath Vickers and into the back of the net, with Solanke bundling it home just to make sure.
Carl Laraman’s Gunners really were now staying down the barrel and tried to respond by getting Gedion Zelalem and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill into more advanced positions. An increased red presence in Chelsea territory saw them enjoy a decent spell but when Alex Iwobi fashioned a chance through a fine run, he contrived to waste it with an uncertain end product. Ainsley Maitland-Niles might have done better with a turn and shot that Beeney gathered well but that was all that Arsenal could muster before the break.
Houghton went close to putting Chelsea out of sight with a flashing header to meet Aina’s cross, and Solanke went close to drilling into the top corner in the latter stages of the first half after a neat pass by Colkett to create the opportunity.
A late start to the second half allowed both coaches to emphasise very different messages but the pace and flow of the game continued on Chelsea’s terms. Akpom was isolated entirely and with the Blues midfielders impressive in and out of possession, Arsenal’s number nine was simply starved of the service he required in order to repeat his goalscoring antics from the first leg.
Christensen strode out from the back unchallenged and was allowed to reach the opposition penalty area before firing wide on his left foot, but after being harshly adjudged to have fouled Akpom he required Houghton to get in the way of a well-struck shot by Glen Kamara flowing the set piece.
A slew of changes demonstrated not only Arsenal’s increasing sense of urgency but also the effect of a second high intensity outing in a week. The hosts threw on first Crowley and later Stefan O’Connor and Austin Lipman, whilst Chelsea rested up Dabo for Ssewankambo and were then forced into a reshuffle when Clarke-Salter fell with injury. Brown replaced him with Ssewankambo filling in alongside Christensen and Dasilva returning to full back.
Akpom escaped his shackles long enough to hit the post but was only able to do so because he had strayed into an offside position, and Solanke proved far more dangerous at the Clock End when he skipped past three challenges before producing a low shot that asked Vickers to stretch every sinew in his body to steer away for a corner.
That set piece came to nothing but one not long afterwards saw Colkett flight the ball into Ssewankambo’s head, but Vickers was there once more to tip it onto the crossbar. The Arsenal stopper was wholly responsible for keeping an air of respectability about the scoreline across both legs and even to the very end was on hand to frustrate Aina and Brown again.
Referee Stuart Atwell found five minutes of stoppage time but the home fans were already on their way home by the time he blew up to send Chelsea into yet another showcase occasion. They will travel to Fulham’s Craven Cottage for the First Leg of the Final on Monday April 28th before hosting the return at Stamford Bridge the following week on Wednesday May 5th. Both ties kick off at 7.45pm and will showcase some of the country’s best young talent. If recent years are anything to go by, don’t miss it.
Arsenal: Vickers, Moore, Ormonde-Ottewill, Kamara (Lipman 85), Siemann (O’Connor 69), Pleguezuelo, Maitland-Niles, Zelalem, Akpom (c),Jebb, Iwobi (Crowley 59)
Subs not Used: Huddart, Mugabo
Chelsea: Beeney; Dabo (Ssewankambo 59), Christensen, Clarke-Salter (Brown 68), Aina, Houghton, Loftus-Cheek (c), Colkett (Mitchell 80), Kiwomya, Dasilva, Solanke
Subs not Used: Collins, Palmer