A tough night for Arsenal Under-18s in the FA Youth Cup Final

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Players of both side's line up prior to the FA Youth Cup Final match between Arsenal U18 and West Ham United U18 at Emirates Stadium on April 25, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25: Players of both side's line up prior to the FA Youth Cup Final match between Arsenal U18 and West Ham United U18 at Emirates Stadium on April 25, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) /

A dream start for Arsenal Under 18s in the FA Youth Cup final turned into a nightmare as Jack Wilshere’s side crashed to a 5-1 defeat to West Ham in a game that was much more even than the scoreline suggests.

With a strong attendance from the Arsenal faithful at the Emirates Stadium and an incredible 7,000 travelling West Ham fans, there was a lively atmosphere going into the game and Arsenal’s young team fully embraced it, starting the brighter of the two sides.

In the first few minutes, Arsenal’s dynamic right back Michal Rosiak had a free kick superbly tipped over by Mason Terry, which was destined for the top corner.

Minutes later, and with the momentum very much in Arsenal’s favour, Reuell Walters went on a powerful, driving run through the middle, sliding in Amario Cozier-Duberry, whose right-footed shot was palmed away, only for the onrushing Omari Benjamin to expertly guide into the corner with an ice cool finish.

For the next ten minutes, Arsenal remained in control until a West Ham break, completely against the run of play, led to George Earthy scoring a superbly taken goal after the ball broke favourably from a Bradly Ibraham block.

Two minutes later and it was 1-2, as a shaky Arsenal were cut open with an inch-perfect cross from Gideon Kodua which was clinically met by Callum Marshall inside the six-yard box to put the Hammers ahead.

That shakiness continued from Arsenal throughout the first half, with the young team looking overwhelmed by the occasion against that team who have already won the Premier League South and are very much the best Under-18 side in the country.

Despite West Ham being the team more in control, Arsenal did a good job settling themselves and had a couple of good breaks when both Jimi Gower and Cozier-Duberry made good interceptions and drove forward. On both occasions, their teammates failed to get forward fast enough and the advantage fizzled out.

Minutes after Cozier-Duberry’s break, and when Arsenal were starting to gain some footing in the game, Josh Robinson, who was the last man inside his own half, made a huge error with a miskick that went straight to Kodua, who capitalised to put West Ham Under 18’s 3-1 up with an outstanding effort.

Despite the mistake, the West Ham captain had a lot to do and shrugged off the Arsenal centre-half before dinking a right-footed finish into the corner with effortless precision from distance.

It was one that Robinson won’t want to look back on, but it was great to see the reaction of his teammates, particularly Walters, who was straight over to pick him up and put an arm around him.

The second half started much better for the Gunners, who seem relaxed and more comfortable on the ball, and came close on 47 minutes as Cozier-Duberry shot into the side netting after a determined run from Robinson.

Two minutes later, it was the Arsenal keeper in action, as Cooper pushed the ball around the post from an Earthy effort. It was a superb piece of technique from the West Ham goalscorer, but very poor play from Arsenal playing out from the back, and a warning sign that the game was still young.

From this point onwards, Arsenal remained in control, and Ethan Nwaneri got himself more involved. However, his frustrations were visible as the goal failed to come, and his big moment came on 68 minutes from a Rosiak corner.

A lovely delivery was nodded down perfectly, and his sumptuous control guided the ball onto his favoured left foot at the edge of the six, only for him to scoop his shot wide.

A minute later, he had another chance. This time from outside the box as he shifted play onto his left and shot from distance, only for the ball to steer wide of the goal. In truth, the effort summed a night that well and truly got the better of him.

With Arsenal’s pressure continuing, West Ham had a rare venture in attack on 75 minutes and won a free kick from an Ibraham challenge on the edge of the box after a poor tackle on Kidua at a time when Arsenal were dominating.

The free kick deflected off Lewis Skelly and went out for a corner, which led to another corner, and West Ham’s fourth goal as Kaelen Casey nodded in a back post header just two minutes after being booked for a scuffle with Benjamin.

At 4-1, the game looked dead, with Arsenal’s young heads on the floor, but West Ham weren’t done. Josh Briggs scored in the 89th minute with his first touch of the game from another corner to put West Ham 5-1 up and seal the FA Youth Cup win.

The first goal summed up Arsenal Under-18s’ night. They were outdone by a slicker, more streetwise team who took their chances when they came, while Arsenal failed to work Terry in the West Ham goal anywhere near enough.

But, these young players deserve huge credit for getting to the FA Youth Cup Final. With so much talent in the team, many have been promoted far beyond under-18 football, and the team hasn’t had the regular game time together that West Ham has. Either way, there are big futures ahead.