The youth team secured a first leg win over their London rivals in the FA Youth Cup semi-final on a mild spring evening at Stamford Bridge. Chuba Akpom fired the visitors ahead 11 minutes into the second half before Charlie Colkett and Alex Kiwomya both scored in the space of seven minutes to turn the contest around.
The victory gives the young Blues a slender advantage ahead of the return leg at the Emirates next Thursday 17 April.
There were three changes from the side that started the 3-2 win over Newcastle in the last round, with Fankaty Dabo, Jordan Houghton and schoolboy centre-back Jake Clarke-Salter coming into the team. Captain Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Charlie Colkett joined Houghton in midfield, while Ola Aina and Andreas Christensen comprised the remainder of the back four.
Dominic Solanke, with six goals in four Youth Cup games en route to the last four, led the line up front supported from out wide by Alex Kiwomya and Izzy Brown. Mitchell Beeney continued in goal.
The game’s first opportunity came inside five minutes as Solanke rose in the box to meet a long throw from Aina from the right, though Joshua Vickers in the Arsenal goal gathered comfortably as the striker’s aerial effort lacked pace.
However, the opening exchanges were proving more open than might have been predicted and the visitors had a great chance to take an early lead after 12 minutes. Ainsley Maitland-Niles got in behind Dabo down the right flank and drilled a right-foot effort narrowly beyond Beeney’s far post.
In response, Kiwomya did well to beat his man and deliver from the right, though his cross was just behind Solanke and the supporting attackers and Tafari Moore was able to clear. Colkett and Solanke then combined intricately on the edge of the box to fashion an opportunity for Kiwomya, though the young Gunners were able to clear once again.
Vickers was in action again midway through the half as he pulled off an impressive double save to keep the scores level. First he denied Colkett after the midfielder’s neat one-two with Houghton, before returning to his feet quickly to thwart Kiwomya’s shot on the rebound.
Down the other end, an interchange between Chuba Akpom and Daniel Crowley in the Blues box gave the latter a sight at goal, though Beeney was equal to the midfield man’s strike with a strong stop.
Solanke tested Vickers twice in the final minutes of the half, initially after combining with Brown and then with a low drive from 25 yards, though both were dealt with well by the man in the Gunners goal. Beeney tipped a looping header over his crossbar for a corner in injury time, though the delivery was hit too long and the scores remained level at the break.
The Blues were back on the front foot after the restart as Vickers held a Brown strike well after it bounced awkwardly in front of him and then skipper Loftus-Cheek fired over from distance.
Christensen and Loftus-Cheek had to be alert defending a couple of minutes later following an intercepted short ball out from Beeney, though the pair did well to snuff out the danger from Crowley, however the deadlock was soon broken 11 minutes into the second period and it was the visitors celebrating.
Maitland-Niles fed in Akpom down the left channel and, after being faced up by Aina on the edge of the box, the striker worked himself a yard of space and drilled a high left-footed effort beyond Beeney to put his team in front.
However, the visitors’ lead lasted less than three minutes as Viveash’s side responded strongly. Loftus-Cheek led the charge out from the back on the break and, after the initial move forward broke down and the loose ball was returned to him, he flicked a delicious pass through to the supporting Colkett, who rifled the ball past Vickers confidently for his second Youth Cup goal of the campaign.
The momentum was now with the hosts and Vickers had to get down low to make a strong save from Brown after Houghton’s layoff. Solanke was alive and pounced for the rebound, though could only strike wide as the ball came back to him at speed. Yet the turnaround was completed moments later as the young Blues got themselves ahead after 66 minutes.
Loftus-Cheek clipped an inviting cross into the box and Solanke powered a header towards goal that Vickers did well to keep out. Kiwomya reacted quickest to the loose ball in the air and twisted acrobatically to turn it into the back of the net for his third Youth Cup goal in three games.
Jay Dasilva replaced Brown with 20 minutes remaining to make his debut in the competition, a reward for a strong campaign with the Under-18s for the left-sided schoolboy, though chances were limited as the game was broken up by a series of stoppages for injuries and fouls.
Aina defended strongly up against Akpom as Carl Laraman’s side looked for a leveller, before the full-back broke forward to fire narrowly over with a left-footed strike from distance. 4,961 supporters had come down to the Bridge to support the youngsters and they were not disappointed with their evening’s entertainment as the match moved into its final stages.
Chelsea were in the ascendancy in the final 10 minutes and Vickers was again proving crucial to keep Arsenal’s deficit at one, firstly to thwart Solanke with a low stop with his feet following Dasilva’s centre from the left, and then to palm away Dabo’s powerful effort from the edge of the box.
That proved to be the final action of the night as Viveash’s side defended a couple of set-pieces strongly in the final few minutes and held on to take a slender advantage to the Emirates next week.
Next up for the Academy is a league trip to Newcastle for the Under-18s on Saturday, 12 April. The return leg of the Youth Cup semi-final will be played at the Emirates next Thursday, 17 April, with tickets priced at £4 for adults and £2 for concessions. Tickets can be purchased online until noon on Monday, 14 April. The game will also be screened live on Chelsea TV.
Viveash spoke afterwards of his belief that his side would be able to come from behind, after previous comebacks in the competition this campaign, and highlighted the game as a terrific representation of youth team football. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: ‘It was a wonderful advert for youth football with two great sides going at it.
‘It was a big physical exertion and we’ve just shaded it tonight but there’s a long way to go and we know it’s only half time in the tie. We’ve seen tonight what it’s going to take to overcome this Arsenal team.
‘I never doubted our ability to come back in the game. We did it at Newcastle in the last round and that’s what happens when you get a positive result away from home coming from behind. Now that we’ve done it twice that will only build the belief in the group.
‘We’ll enjoy tonight but we’ll wake up tomorrow and I’ll start thinking about the second leg but a lot of the players will have to start thinking about Aston Villa away with the Under-21s on Monday. They’re trying to win the league so there’s a lot of games for us but come next Thursday we’ll be ready for the challenge and we look forward to it.’
Chelsea: Mitchell Beeney; Ola Aina, Andreas Christensen, Jake Clarke-Salter (Isak Ssewankambo 76), Fankaty Dabo (Kasey Palmer 88); Jordan Houghton, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (c), Charlie Colkett; Alex Kiwomya, Izzy Brown (Jay Dasilva 70), Dominic Solanke
Unused subs: Bradley Collins, Charly Musonda
Scorers: Colkett 59, Kiwomya 66
Bookings: Clarke-Salter, Loftus-Cheek
Arsenal: Joshua Vickers, Tafari Moore, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Glen Kamara, Leander Siemann, Julio Pleguezuelo, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gedion Zelalem (Jack Jebb 67), Chuba Akpom (c), Daniel Crowley, Alexander Iwobi
Unused subs: Ryan Huddart, Stefan O’Connor, Austin Lipman, George Dobson
Scorers: Akpom 56
By Sam Poplett