Arsenal are into an FA Youth Cup quarter-final after the u18 side beat Coventry City on penalties on Monday night.
After 120 long minutes, it took sudden death in the shootout to separate the two sides, and young goalkeeper Hugo Keto made himself the hero.
Arsenal fell behind in normal time and led in extra-time, but an equaliser for each side prolonged the match. At such a young age, many players are still getting used to competitive football and the pressure and buzz of make-or-break minutes offers an invaluable experience.
“It is a good lesson for them,” Arsenal u21 head coach Steve Gatting, who was at the game alongside u18 manager Frans de Kat, said after the nail-biting finale. “Cup tie football is what it is all about. The main thing is to get through and sometimes you play well and you lose. Tonight, we didn’t play well and we won.
“It was a game where it was about winning and not so much about development. Alongside that, we learnt a lot of lessons going into the game against Liverpool.”
You would expect the Gunners to negotiate a tie with Coventry fairly comfortably, particularly after fielding a strong side. Stephy Mavidid made the starting 11 ahead of Donyell Malen, and was joined in the line up by the likes of Krystian Bielik and Jeff Reine-Adelaide.
Arsenal are clearly taking the competition very seriously, but it all could have gone wrong.
“It was disappointing – we were very poor with our finishing. When we crawled our way back to 2-1, it was a bit disappointing to let the last goal in to make it 2-2. I don’t think we handled the situation too well at 2-1 up,” remarked Gatting.
“When it goes to penalties you are in the lap of the gods. You watch and you are nervous and you can’t do anything about it. It can go either way and on the night we went through. The goalkeepers are either the heroes or the villains, and Hugo was the hero.”
The quarter-final against Liverpool will be played at Emirates Stadium, giving fans the chance to see the next generation in action.