Chelsea completed a 100% group stage in the Under-18 Premier League Cup, and qualified for the Quarter Finals, after beating Arsenal 2-1 at Cobham on Saturday.
First half goals from Armando Broja and Sam Iling Jr, the latter with his first at this level, proved enough for Ed Brand’s unbeaten boys, despite a late comeback from the visitors that saw Daniel Oyegoke reduce the deficit to no avail.
It wasn’t a classic by any definition, and Chelsea didn’t come close to matching the intensity or quality of the performance away to Tottenham last time out, but this was a different match and needed a different approach. Against an Arsenal team that, despite the quality among their ranks has underwhelmed this season, they had to bide their time, fight their corner, and get the job done.
When you can call upon the services of Lewis Bate, everything looks a little bit easier. The England Under-18 midfielder has been in stellar form this season and ran the show from start to finish once again here; an early shot cannoned back off the post, before he laid on the opener for Broja, winning possession and feeding his forward, who did just enough to beat a disappointing attempt to save by Arsenal goalkeeper Hubert Graczyk.
They would go on to have their own personal duel for the rest of the morning, as the Chelsea hitman set about trying to add to his prolific tally of goals this season, only to be consistently denied at the last. Ethan Wady at the other end, meanwhile, was a veritable spectator until Joel Lopez asked him to shovel a shot wide well past the half hour mark.
The decisive moment in the contest arrived eight minutes before half time, when schoolboy Iling Jr scored his maiden Under-18 goal, and he did so in some style. Nipping in to seize the ball from Alex Kirk’s loose touch, he blew past the defender with searing pace before unleashing a ferocious strike that almost took the net off as it crashed into the top corner. It was an outstanding finish from a young player very much on the rise.
The Gunners had offered so little before the break that it looked like the sort of match Chelsea should have gone on to win at a canter, but this is academy football, and Arsenal have a certain pedigree of their own. It took them a while, and they needed Graczyk to keep Broja out again, but they finally found their game and began to take control of the match after an hour had passed.
Chelsea were a bit too passive, and lacked quality with their final ball (especially from wide areas), and so while Wady only had to save from Lopez (again) as the pressure mounted, the momentum told twelve minutes from time. Oyegoke linked well with Matthew Dennis down the right before drilling home from a tight angle, and it was suddenly game on.
They could have taken a point too, had Luke Plange or Sam Greenwood been just a little more accurate, but Chelsea will argue that they might have made it more comfortable for themselves through a pair of late headers from Levi Colwill. In any event, the Blues are safely into the hat for next week’s Quarter Final draw as they seek to regain a trophy they won back in 2018, and will now prepare for next weekend’s top of the table clash against Fulham in league action.
Chelsea: Wady, Brooking, Wiggett, McClelland (c), Colwill, Bate, Haigh, Simons, Broja, Peart-Harris (Rankine 64), Iling Jr (Elliott 83)
Subs not Used: Clark, Adegoke, Humphreys
Goals: Broja 16, Iling Jr 37
Arsenal: Graczyk, Oyegoke, Lopez, Patino (Cirjan 83), Kirk, Ogungbo (c), Alebiosu, Azeez, Matthews (Plange 63), Greenwood, Butler-Oyedeji (Dennis 73)
Subs not Used: Mitchell, Monlouis
Goal: Oyegoke 78
Booked: Matthews, Ogungbo, Greenwood