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Arsenal made it into the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals with a rollercoaster win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Thursday night.
With the winter break fully underway, there aren’t many games for Arsenal fans to enjoy this fortnight. In the men and boys half of the club, the u18 match against Brighton was the only one on.
It was a fixture to look forward to though, an FA Youth Cup fifth-round match against the team sitting in fourth place in the u18 Premier League South.
In the last two games against the same opposition, the score was 7-6 to Brighton on aggregate, with one win each. Thursday night’s match certainly brought the guarantee of goals.
The game started in a fairly open manner, with half-chances at both ends. No one really created anything major until midway through the first 45, when Sam Greenwood ran through on goal.
The young striker tried to bend a shot past the goalkeeper, but Brighton’s Roco Rees saved well. Ryan Alebiosu picked up the ball and fired in another shot, but this time Rees’ save fell right to Greenwood to fire in the rebound for 1-0.
Brighton put the pressure on and Hubert Graczyk made a number of great saves to keep them out. He punched away a cross despite heavy pressure, made another save with his feet before getting down well to keep out a free-kick.
Unfortunately, Brighton then won a penalty, with Alex Kirk sticking his leg in and bringing down the man, though arguably he also got a touch on the ball. Stefan Vukoje converted the spot-kick.
Immediately after the restart, Arsenal won a penalty which was just as soft. Greenwood ran into the box and went down under pressure from the defender, but the Brighton fans were up in arms when the referee pointed to the spot.
The striker kept his composure to get up and put the penalty in the corner.
Greenwood had an early chance for a hat-trick in the second half, running clean through on the goalkeeper. He only managed to force a save, with the rebound off his body blocked on the line by a defender.
Brighton raced up the other end and punished Arsenal with a Lorent Tolaj goal for 2-2.
Arsenal really put the pressure on and had four or five chances in quick succession. Greenwood, Matthew Dennis and Ben Cottrell among those denied by the goalkeeper or last-ditch blocks.
Eventually, Miguel Azeez made the pressure count with the goal of the game. After a corner, Mazeed Ogungbo tried an overhead kick to get the ball back into the danger area. The ball looped up and out towards Azeez, who controlled his volley into the net expertly.
Arsenal scored again soon after, but the goal went down as an own goal. Rees, who had a great game for Brighton in general, spilt the ball into his own net under pressure from Greenwood for 4-2.
With 10 minutes to go, Brighton pulled another goal back through Tolaj. After that, they had four free-kicks in quick succession in the Arsenal defensive third, but couldn’t take advantage.
As the game went into injury time, they had another shot that left the entire Arsenal defence flat-footed and watching. Fortunately, it skimmed just by the post. The home side saw out five minutes of injury time to win 4-3.
Arsenal will face Blackburn Rovers or Preston North End in the quarter-finals, away from home. Despite their struggles in the league this season, the u18s seem to step their game up for the cup matches, and they’re reaping the rewards.
They’ve really had to battle for it though. After winning against Cheltenham Town on penalties and scraping past Southampton with a late goal, this win over Brighton wasn’t any easier.
Sam Greenwood had a great game in terms of creating chances for himself and working really hard for the team, but he needs to be a little more clinical.
That sounds strange on a night when he scored twice, but his goals were the easiest of his chances, a tap-in and a well-taken penalty. His excellent runs got him in on the goalkeeper twice and he really should’ve put one of those opportunities away.
The striker is still indispensable for the u18s. They certainly would have lost without him. There’s room for improvement though.
The same goes for Miguel Azeez, who scored an excellent goal but took some time to really have an impact on the game. When those two are at their best, the team really hits a new level.