They held a strong advantage heading into Tuesday night’s Second Leg, and after a 2-1 win at Anfield, Arsenal have clinched the 2009 FA Youth Cup. Captain Jay Emmanuel-Thomas lifted the trophy exactly 20 years to the day that the first team won the English First Division on the same ground.
On that night it was Michael Thomas’ goal which saw the Gunners home, but on this occasion it was all about Sanchez Watt. Restored to the starting lineup with Emmanuel Frimpong sidelined with a thigh injury picked up in the first leg, he scored the first and created the second – an own goal from Daniel Ayala – to see Steve Bould’s side home to a 2-1 win on the night, and a 6-2 aggregate victory. Arsenal were very good value for their success, with Liverpool really only showing up in the second half of the second leg, and despite a goal from Lauri Dalla Valle to give them hope, they were never really in the tie after their drubbing at the Emirates Stadium, and went out with a whimper in front of a disappointing home crowd.
Liverpool made one change after the first leg, drafting schoolboy left-back Jack Robinson in for the equally young Karl Clair, and pushing Christoph Buchtmann into midfield where he played so well for Germany in the recent Under-17 European Championships. Arsenal made just the Sanchez Watt change and started well, moving the football confidently in midfield and going close with some half chances. Liverpool had the first major chance through Dalla Valle, when he capitalised on a poor backpass from Thomas Cruise, but he was denied by a good save by James Shea.
Alex Kacaniklic, scorer of a fine goal in the first leg, forced another good save from Shea before Watt opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Emmanuel-Thomas put a ball in behind the slow Liverpool defence, and Watt surged away past Joe Kennedy and slipped the ball over Bouzanis and into the corner at the Kop End. It effectively killed the tie as a contest, with Liverpool needing four against a strong Arsenal unit, and their heads dropped, leaving Sunu and Wilshere to go close before the break.
Liverpool coach Hughie MacAuley, evidently encouraging his team to give it one last go in his half time team talk, got his team going and Dalla Valle levelled the game on the night five minutes after the restart, weaving his way through before finishing coolly. David Amoo’s pace along the right helped up the tempo, but the cutting edge wasn’t there – evidenced by failed attempts by Amoo, Dalla Valle and Buchtmann.
With time always against them, and Arsenal’s superior physical strength and conditioning, the game got away from the hosts again. With Watt’s pace causing problems, another goal was always in the offing, and with twenty minutes left it came. The scorer of the first goal again went in behind Kennedy, and when closed down by Bouzanis he cut the ball back into space, where it hit Ayala and went into the empty net. It summed up a torrid tie for Ayala, who was booked twice and was lucky not to be sent off in both games. The goal sealed Arsenal’s first Youth Cup victory since 2001 and their third this decade, and adds to their FA Premier Academy League success this season – very bright moments in an otherwise trophyless season at the Emirates Stadium at higher levels.