The English season drew to a close this week, but not without some impact from the prospects, and a top quality showing from Arsenal in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup.
On Friday night Arsenal and Liverpool lined up at the Emirates Stadium for the first of two clashes in five days to decide the winners of this year’s prestigious competition. Top 50 prospects Jack Wilshere, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Henri Lansbury and Kyle Bartley from the hosts (with Rhys Murphy on the bench) lined up against a visiting team missing their three entries in the list in what was a young team of their own. They started brightly and forced a good few corners, but with injury came Arsenal’s moment. It was to one of their own, defensive midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong leaving with a thigh problem. It meant Sanchez Watt came on in an attacking role and Wilshere dropped deeper, where he found time and space in which to weave his wizardry.
Midway through the first half he picked the ball up deep and slipped a lovely pass into Lansbury’s path on the edge of the box. He simply sent it into space for Gilles Sunu to dash through and slot past Dean Bouzanis for the opener. It brought confidence to a team playing in front of 33,000 fans and with Liverpool centre-back Daniel Ayala really struggling (and lucky not to be sent off) they kept coming and made it two shortly before half time. Emmanuel-Thomas’ strange floating free kick hit the post, and when Watt picked up the rebound he was upended by schoolboy full-back Karl Clair. Wilshere was cool and composed in beating Bouzanis from 12 yards.
Alex Kacaniklic scored a lovely volley immediately after to reduce arrears at the break but the second half saw the Arsenal tide continue to flow relentlessly. Wilshere was again instrumental in the third, playing a glorious ball behind the back line to allow Watt time and space to finish nonchalently. Captain Emmanuel-Thomas headed a fourth shortly after to leave his chances of lifting the trophy at Anfield exactly 20 years to the day that their first team won the English title on the same ground very strong. The goalscorer that night to clinch the trophy on goal difference was of course, Michael Thomas.
On Sunday, the Premier League season came to a close, and with it an opportunity for some with nothing to play for to use some of their next generation. Champions Manchester United led the way, playing a complete backup team away to relegation-haunted Hull, with plenty of reserves. Rafael Da Silva featured at right back, Daniel Welbeck and Federico Macheda were paired in attack, and a very young substitutes bench included Rodrigo Possebon, Ben Amos, and for the first time Matthew James. United won with a stunning Darron Gibson goal, Rafael played well, Macheda went very close once or twice, whilst Welbeck was fairly quiet. Possebon made a late substitute appearance but was quiet.
These appearances came off the back of a week United spent in Switzerland at the annual Blue Stars youth tournament. The Red Devils finished fifth after a disappointing group stage defeat to Basel, losing 5-1. A squad featuring Amos, Possebon and James beat the local Blue Star select team, but were held by Fenerbahce in a match where Possebon found the back of the net. The Italian-cum-Brazilian scored again versus Basel before the walls came crashing down around them. Day Two saw James score in a 1-1 draw with Flamengo, leaving them in the 5th/6th place playoff against Real Madrid. The match finished goalless but United won 3-0 on penalties, Possebon scoring the second. For full coverage of the competition, United-style, and all things surrounding the younger side of the club, visit the ever-excellent United Youth.
Back in the Premier League, it was a disappointing final day for youth involvement. Arsenal, such bastions of young involvement, were unable to feature as many as they may have liked due to the FA Youth Cup. Everton, with the FA Cup in mind for next weekend, gave Jack Rodwell another 90 minutes in a confident midfield performance as they won at Fulham for the first time in 43 years. Nathan Delfouneso sat on Aston Villa’s bench and watched as an own goal from Damien Duff consigned Newcastle to relegation, and Vladimir Weiss made his debut in Man City’s tame end-of-season outing against Bolton, getting 20 minutes as a replacement for Stephen Ireland to cap another fine season for the Slovakian.
England Under-19 coach Brian Eastick named his party for this coming week’s Elite Round Qualifiers in Yorkshire against Bosnia, Scotland and Slovakia. Nathan Delfouneso, Matthew James, Dean Parrett, Jordan Spence, Jason Steele and Kieran Trippier were in the initial squad and remain so, but Daniel Welbeck has been withdrawn to travel to Rome for the Champions League Final, and Nathan Baker was withdrawn injured by Aston Villa. Baker’s departure left a space for Fulham’s Matthew Briggs to join up for the trifecta of matches, which you can keep up to date with on this blog.