Sometimes, things are just not meant to be. That was certainly the overriding feeling after Arsenal U18s suffered a premature exit in the FA Youth Cup at the hands of a determined Everton side this week. The Gunners had shown varying qualities in the two previous rounds, comfortably swatting aside Newcastle United before displaying resilience to see off Fulham in extra-time. The challenge of Everton, however, proved beyond Steve Gatting’s side with poor defending resulting in the majority of the goals conceded in the 4-2 loss.
It had all started so well, too, after Chuba Akpom opened the scoring following good work from Anthony Jeffrey down the right flank. Everton soon levelled, however, pouncing on some static defending from a corner, before two mistakes in quick succession from centre-back Zach Fagan were capitalised upon by a rampant Everton side. Everton’s fourth was of Arsenal’s own making, with Kristoffer Olsson attempting to lay off a free-kick to Jack Jebb, only for the former to misjudge his pass, enabling the visitors to charge up the Underhill slope and effectively end the game as a contest. Serge Gnabry reduced the arrears with a fine individual strike but, even as the ball nestled in the back of the net following the German’s well-hit effort, the odds of a dramatic late comeback seemed rather remote.
Despite the defeat, it is not as if the youngsters do not have anything else to concentrate on. Both the U21s and U18s are in action simultaneously tomorrow morning, with the elder age group travelling to face Tottenham at their new Enfield training facility, whilst the U18s, who are likely to field a far more experienced side than they have done in recent weeks, host Aston Villa at London Colney. Those games are just two of at least 19 games to come at various levels before the end of the season, and that number could be extended further if Arsenal negotiate their difficult one-legged tie away to Inter Milan in the NextGen Series next month, with a seemingly winnable home tie against either CSKA Moscow or PSV in store for the winners.
The U18s, meanwhile, have been struggling for results in the league recently, losing their two most recent fixtures to Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers. Those defeats have largely been as a consequence, however, of the regular players at that level being rested for the aforementioned Youth Cup tie. In their place, coach Carl Laraman fielded a side consisting entirely of schoolboys for the defeat to City last week, with striker Kaylen Hinds, who was signed amidst some competition from Leyton Orient last summer, particularly impressing.