YOUTH BEAT ARSENAL
A single goal from a player in the form of his fledgling career saw Chelsea triumph 1-0 over Arsenal in a very entertaining and well-fough Good Friday academy fixture at Cobham. Some 36 hours after scoring the winner at Villa Park to put Chelsea into the FA Youth Cup Final, the first-year striker scored in the first half to give his team a slightly deserved win.
As expected, with the fixture falling so close to the away leg of the Youth Cup, changes were made to the team, with Tom Taiwo captaining the team from right-back and Shaun Cummings making a rare reserve appearance as a centre-back. Ricardo Fernandes made another start on his comeback from injury whilst Nikki Ahmed moved to a more attacking position on the right wing. Arsenal used Carling Cup substitute players Gavin Hoyte and Nacer Barazite in a fairly strong team.
Chelsea had the best of the opening ten minutes, looking very impressive breaking down the flanks, especially the left, where Nouble was giving Blackwood a hard time. He got into the box and beat his man with a nice stepover before firing in a dangerous cross nobody could get hold of. In extremely windy conditions Chelsea sensibly kept the ball on the floor and passed their way around confidently, despite Arsenal’s high-tempo pressing game. When Arsenal tried to make advances of their own, Rhys Murphy was found yards offside time after time as an inexperienced defensive back line showed remarkable cohesion.
Chelsea turned their impressive start into something meaningful on the quarter hour mark with the only goal of the game. Nouble took Blackwood on again and simply beat him for raw pace and strength, then looked up and fizzed a sharp left footed ball across the six-yard box. With Szczesny caught at his near post it was left to Phillip to volley the ball cleanly into the roof of the net. After a testing first half of the season for him where goals were hard to come by, he’s come back with a bang and a half. Today’s goal was his 5th in successive games, by far the team’s longest scoring streak of the season and a goal that puts him right in contention to end the season as the top goalscorer for the academy side.
Arsenal did look better in reaction to the goal, and the attention would turn to Nick Heimann, who made two sensational saves to keep the score in Chelsea’s favour. First, Murphy got free of Cummings and hit a left-footed effort as he was slipping to the ground. He got enough direction and power on it to test the German stopper, but he used every inch of his tall frame to leap and spectacularly tip the effort over the bar for a corner. From the corner, a loose ball fell to the feet of the giant Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who showed great composure to work out a shot from 8 yards, but Heimann displayed incredible reflexes to turn the powerful effort away.
Before half time Chelsea were to lose their first of two players to injury. Jordan Tabor took an impact injury to his upper leg and despite treatment, he couldn’t run it off, forcing Nana Ofori-Twumasi on to play at left-back. Jack Saville almost doubled the lead, rising well from a Fernandes corner and winning a header powerfully. It appeared to be on its way in but Phillip accidentally got in the way and the ball was hacked away.
With seconds remaining in the half some fine build-up play down the right saw Ahmed present Phillip with a chance for a second, but the ball ran to his weaker foot and as he tried to redirect the shot and move his feet at the same time, Szczesny smothered the effort well, taking a knock in the process.
After a quiet 45 minutes, Fernandes once again made way, not risking too much in only his third game back. Lee Sawyer took his place in midfield after a midweek dismissal, a suspension ruling him out of much of the remainder of the season. His presence allowed Jordan Hibbert to assert himself more and use his vocal personality to drive Chelsea on, he himself on the road back from an injury. Unfortunately, the start to the half was more disjointed from Chelsea, and Arsenal had a lot more possession.
For all their time with the ball though, they struggled to really do anything of note with it. Barazite, their most talented player selected on the day and their top scorer, looked anything but that as Cummings shut him down impressively. Rui Fonte struggled with his decision-making, as he did in this fixture last season, whilst Murphy was always offside. Luke Ayling on the right was a willing worker, but the Gunners lacked creativity.
The closest they came to a second half goal was as a result of some careless Chelsea play. A poor return pass to Cummings from an otherwise brilliant Taiwo was intercepted by Fonte and Arsenal forced their way into the area. The loose ball fell to a red shirt but Murphy couldn’t find the target, missing the post by a foot. Coach Paul Clement then lost another player to injury, as Nikki Ahmed limped off after sustaining a gashed knee after falling over in the Arsenal penalty area and receiving a few kicks as he tried to recover the ball from a prone position.
Chelsea didn’t have many chances of their own in the second half, one of the better moments falling to Philliskirk on the edge of the box, but he hesitated and the chance ran wide and away from him. With less than five minutes remaining and Arsenal pushing up, Phillip caught their defenders out and sprung the offside trap. The onrushing Szczesny was rounded, and from the left side of the area all he had to do was tuck the ball into the gaping goal and sew up a perfect week. To the disbelief of a strong crowd, he put it into the side netting.
With the last kick of the game Fonte broke towards the edge of the box, but with options left and right, he chose to shoot, high and wide, and allowed the referee to blow for full time on the restart for a well earned Chelsea win. Taiwo and Cummings were sensational in unfamiliar defensive roles and should share the Man of the Match award, whilst Jack Saville was almost as impressive as the senior defender in the team. Hibbert had a good second half, whilst Nouble and Phillip in attack once again displayed their great understanding stretching back to their Under 16 team days. The performance, especially the second half, wasn’t perfect, but it put a nice end to a very good week for the team.
Team: Heimann, Taiwo ©, Cummings, Saville, Tabor (Ofori-Twumasi 32), Hibbert, Philliskirk, Fernandes (Sawyer 45), Ahmed (Nielsen 70), Phillip, Nouble
Goals: Phillip ‘16