Arsenal commenced their quest to win the FA Youth Cup with an impressive 4-1 victory over their West Bromwich Albion counterparts on Friday night, with the young Gunners showcasing the range of options that they possess in an attacking sense.
The goals came courtesy of Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ben Sheaf, Donyell Malen and Stephy Mavididi, while Kaylen Hinds and Chris Willock were also hugely impressive.
There were a couple of concerning moments for Arsenal in a defensive sense, but goalkeeper Hugo Keto was largely untroubled and Steve Gatting’s side will now take their place in the Fourth Round of the competition.
Arsenal were able to call upon the vast majority of their best talents at this level, with the notable exception of Krystian Bielik.
Reine-Adelaide caught the eye with his movement and trickery, although the Frenchman’s evening ended in disappointment as he suffered a head wound which caused him to be substituted.
Sheaf, normally a central midfielder, fared well at right-back. The England youth international scored one goal as he applied the finishing touch to a free-flowing team move, but he should have doubled his tally from the penalty spot shortly afterwards.
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Sheaf’s spot-kick was saved, but Arsenal dominated for most of the opening period and deserved their lead going into the break.
West Brom provided a far greater attacking threat in the second half, with Arsenal defenders Marc Bola and Tyrell Robinson having to make important interventions.
The Arsenal midfield was rather too open at times, with first-year scholar Marcus Agyei-Tabi struggling a little, but Gatting’s team still caused numerous problems for West Brom in an attacking sense, with Malen finishing well to make it 3-0.
West Brom then capitalised upon some disappointing defending to score, but Arsenal rubber-stamped their victory when Mavididi emerged off the bench to finish well and put his side 4-1 up.
Arsenal haven’t won this competition since 2009, when the likes of Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin were part of the squad, but this is an intriguing group of players, particularly in an attacking sense.
Attention will now turn to Arsenal’s final group stage fixture in the UEFA Youth League on Wednesday, when they travel to face Olympiacos. A victory would guarantee Arsenal’s place in the Last 16 stage of the competition, although a draw would prove to be sufficient if Dinamo Zagreb fail to win against Bayern Munich.
Testing themselves against different opponents is an important part of the development process for these youngsters, and the victory over West Brom last night demonstrated that many of them are moving in the right direction.