Arsenal were eliminated from the FA Youth Cup on Friday, despite a spirited performance against Liverpool amid various injury concerns.
Going into Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup quarter-final on Friday night, there was a big blow before kickoff with the news that Omari Hutchinson would be unavailable for the match.
There was no official update given as to why, but given he was in attendance at the match, it was probably a minor injury.
The likes of Catalin Cirjan, Charlie Patino, and Mauro Bandeira were already missing through injury, meaning Arsenal were without some of their best talents at u18 level and particularly lacking their usual midfield creators and scorers.
All the same, Arsenal dominated the play for the vast majority of the match. Unfortunately, Liverpool took the lead anyway with what was pretty much their first chance. Max Woltman fired home after a clever headed-pass to his feet in the box.
The Gunners fought back, forcing saves from the Liverpool goalkeeper, yet the hosts only increased their lead.
Arsenal’s midfield of Jack Henry-Francis and Miguel Azeez were so impressive in the previous round against West Ham, and they performed well again on Friday. Yet they also each had a hand in Liverpool’s second and third goals.
Azeez caught a Liverpool man with an attempted clearance to concede a harsh penalty, before Henry-Francis lost possession to spark a counter-attack goal soon after the half-time break.
Despite the three-goal deficit, Arsenal continued to fight. Marcelo Flores curled a shot just wide, Kido Taylor-Hart had an effort well saved and Azeez saw another shot go just wide of the post. Not long after that, Khayon Edwards was fouled for a penalty.
Azeez stepped up to the spot-kick and scored it emphatically for 3-1.
Arsenal kept pushing all the way to the final whistle, even when all hope was realistically gone, but it wasn’t enough to avoid elimination from the cup. They can be proud of their efforts despite understandable disappointment with the final result.
Lineup: Ejeheri, Norton-Cuffy, Kirk, Monlouis, Ogungbo, Henry-Francis, Flores, Azeez, Taylor-Hart, Butler-Oyedeji (for Ideho, 75), Edwards (for Richards, 81).
It’s hard not to imagine how things could have gone differently with Hutchinson in particular involved. Scoring five goals and assisting two in his last six u18 appearances, the 17-year-old was the main offensive threat in the team.
The Arsenal u18s surely would have made more of their possession with their top scorer at this level this season – who also happens to be their top assist provider.
For Hutchinson, this isn’t the end of the Youth Cup story. Though he’ll almost certainly step up to the u23s next season, and deservedly so, he’s still young enough to drop back into the u18 team for the cup games.
Friday starters Khayon Edwards, Jack Henry-Francis, Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Marcelo Flores, and Zane Monlouis are all also still young enough to play in the competition again next year, and substitute Amani Richards is young enough for two more seasons.
Then there’s Charlie Patino and Mauro Bandeira, who will be fit again and eligible as well.
That’s a strong core, who now have experience of the highs and lows of the competition, so you’d expect Arsenal to be back and firing next year.