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  • By Charlie Stong at Emirates Stadium

Gunners’ class of ’23 adding to history of a famous old competition

FA Youth Cup quarter-final

Arsenal U18 3

Cambridge United U18 2

The FA Youth Cup boasts a rich history.

George Best, John Barnes, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott, Daniel Sturridge and Gareth Bale are among those to have played in a final.

Jack Wilshere – the current boss of Arsenal’s youngsters - was in the most recent Gunners team to have won the competition.

And probably its most famous team – Fergie’s Fledglings – won it in the 1991-92 season.

The nucleus of that side, which included Gary Neville, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt would, of course, go on to dominate English football for much of the next decade.

As for Arsenal, some of the names to have featured for them over the years include Wilshere, Sammy Nelson, Pat Rice, Kevin Campbell and Steve Morrow.

Morrow’s career highlight was a winning goal in a League Cup final for the first team – in 1993 against Sheffield Wednesday - before Tony Adams got too excited and threw him over his shoulder when celebrating the win.

It’s a competition which many fans hold dear to their hearts, too. A staggering 67,000 packed into Old Trafford to watch United beat Nottingham Forest in last season’s final – a one-off affair since the two-legged version was dropped a few years ago.

The Gunners last won the youth cup in 2009, but seem to be taking it far more seriously this year.

Before tonight they had dispatched Millwall 6-0, Newcastle United 3-2 at St James’ Park and beaten Watford at Vicarage Road.

But this was the first chance many of these boys have got to shine on the Emirates turf.

The nameless shirts harked back to a more innocent day. The pure white number seven on a pristine long-sleeved red shirt belonged to Amario Cozier-Duberry, but a brief moment of deja vu took me back 35 years to Highbury and Rocky Rocastle. It would have been worth coming just for that.

The Arsenal crowd was sparse – other things on their minds, maybe. But the travelling Us deserve a mention – their section was packed out, undoubtedly taking more away than they probably do to most League One outposts.

Arsenal have a few in this side to keep an eye on. Cozier-Duberry is a tricky right winger in the mould of Bukayo Saka, Myles Lewis-Skelly a domineering midfielder, and Ethan Nwaneri possesses a booming shot.

And all three were on show for the Gunners’ opening goal inside 10 minutes.

Lewis-Skelly’s driving run parted the Cambridge defence and, when one of the back line did finally get a foot in, it only made it as far as Cozier-Duberry on the right. He found Nwaneri who hammered home a thunderbolt from the edge of the box.

Cozier-Duberry was the best player on the pitch by some distance. His close control and speed of footwork was dazzling, and of all on display he looked the most likely to make the step up.

Dan Carey-Evans headed home Cambridge’s 25th-minute equaliser from a corner, and the Gunners found it hard to create more chances in the opening period against a resolute visiting defence.

Cozier-Duberry was causing problems for Cambridge again in the second half. One mazy run after he had left a defender on his backside in the centre of the pitch ended with a deflected effort which lopped up and almost made it over Tom Finch in the Cambridge goal.

The Gunners pressed, Nwaneri drawing a fine save from Finch.

But Cambridge looked threatening on the break, and they took the lead through Kai Yearn on 69 minutes, the number 10 side-footing a volley inside Noah Cooper’s near post, a shot the keeper really should have saved.

But within seconds Arsenal had a spot-kick, Lino Sousa brought down in the box, Cozier-Duberry firing home.

Back came the Us, Yearn firing a blockbuster from 25 yards off the top of the bar.

The players were noticeably tiring, two elongated drinks breaks while others were down injured led you to wonder whether extra-time is right for these youngsters, as the quality which had been on display for much of the game understandably waned.

Fortunately we didn’t need it, right-back Michal Rosiak volleying home left-back Sousa’s cross for the winner, and the young guns march on.

Arsenal: Cooper, Rosiak, Sousa, Robinson, Walters, Lewis-Skelly, Cozier-Duberry, Ibrahim, Benjamin, Nwaneri, Ferdinand

Cambridge United: Finch, Sandiford, Scales, Carey-Evans, Lott, Hoddle, Ismaili, Njoku, Yearn, McConnell, Barton

Referee: Gary Parsons


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