Arsenal progressed to the quarter-final of the FA Youth Cup with an impressive comeback win over Watford at Vicarage Road on Monday.
After defeating Millwall 6-0 at Meadow Park and Newcastle United 3-2 at St. James’ Park in the previous rounds, Jack Wilshere’s Arsenal u18s went into Monday’s fifth-round tie with exactly the same lineup that played against Newcastle.
It had worked at St. James’, but Monday’s tie at Vicarage Road got off to the worst possible start as Watford took the lead within two minutes.
With Watford’s first attack, they cut the ball back for Michael Adu-Poku to help bundle the ball over the line.
Arsenal initially responded well, but in a flash, it was 2-0. Emmanuel Adeyemo finished from close range after just 13 minutes to double Watford’s advantage.
In a frustrating half that ultimately saw 12 minutes of stoppage time for multiple injuries, Omari Benjamin, Amario Cozier-Duberry, and Bradley Ibrahim all had good chances, but they just weren’t as clinical as their opponents.
Osman Kamara came on as a substitute at the break, and he ended up having a major impact on the game.
Cozier-Duberry was the first to go close for Arsenal, hitting the post with a free-kick. As the rebound bounced away, Kamara got his body between the ball and a Watford defender and drew a penalty.
Cozier-Duberry stepped up and put it to his left for 2-1, sparking some belief in the 57th minute.
Ethan Nwaneri was the next substitute to come on, but there was a heart-in-mouth moment after that as Watford squandered an opportunity on the counter to restore their two-goal advantage.
That ended up being a pivotal moment, as Arsenal quickly equalised. Ibrahim had a shot saved after a strong run, and Kamara turned in from close range on the rebound.
Kamara was then involved in Arsenal’s third, cutting back to Lino Sousa, whose shot was saved but fell to Michal Rosiak, who finished confidently.
Myles Lewis-Skelly had been beating players in midfield and drawing free-kicks and bookings all night, but one of his best runs then resulted in another penalty being awarded, converted by Cozier-Duberry again.
Just 13 minutes after Arsenal had been 2-0 down, they were suddenly 4-2 up.
The game took on a different complexion after that, with Arsenal slowing things down and picking their moments to hit Watford in the final 20 minutes.
That limited the hosts to just one further chance, hitting the bar with a minute to go, but it was too late for another comeback.
The match finished 4-2, and Arsenal will now progress to a home draw against either Cambridge United or Sheffield Wednesday.
Once again, there were plenty of standout performers in Arsenal’s midfield and attack, which are really the driving forces of this team.
It’s somewhat inevitable the side will concede goals, but they always look capable of scoring more, with 13 goals in their three games in this competition so far.
With Myles Lewis-Skelly starring at the base of midfield and Amario Cozier-Duberry a constant threat on the right wing, Arsenal have a couple of players who can make things happen on their own if the game demands it.
Bradley Ibrahim picked up a first-half yellow card and skirted the line for a second, and it was important he avoided a sending-off. His physical presence and technical skill in midfield will be pivotal as the competition continues.
Then Osman Kamara is starting to make a name for himself in this cup run, scoring the winner at St. James’ Park and sparking a comeback at Vicarage Road. The Emirates Stadium awaits in the quarter-finals.
That’s without even mentioning Ethan Nwaneri, one of the team’s top talents who also helped to change the game from the bench on Monday.
The 15-year-old midfielder has been making the step up to the u21s more regularly recently, and will now hope to start in the next round against Cambridge or Sheffield Wednesday.
Arsenal lineup vs Watford
Cooper, Rosiak, Walters, Quamina, Sousa, Lewis-Skelly, Ibrahim, Gower, Cozier-Duberry, Ferdinand, Benjamin
Kamara (for Ferdinand, 46), Nwaneri (for Gower, 58), Kacurri (for Cozier-Duberry, 86), B. Okonkwo, Nichols, I. Oulad M’hand, Roberts
For the Arsenal u18s, the next game is a league fixture away to Brighton on Saturday, February 11th at 11:30 GMT.
They’ll return to the FA Youth Cup for the quarter-final when that game is finalised, but it will definitely take place before Saturday, March 4th.
Given Arsenal are hoping to play the tie at the Emirates Stadium, it will be sooner than that, since the first team are playing Bournemouth at the Emirates on March 4th. So late February is a good bet for the fixture.
Cambridge United (who knocked out Chelsea in a previous round) play Sheffield Wednesday to determine Arsenal’s opponent on Wednesday at 19:00 GMT.