City started the stronger, and with a core of first team players in the line up that was hardly surprising. When we had the ball the player with it at his feet was very often tempted to do a bit too much. The kids were on show and wanted to perform, but were taking on too many players. This is not always the best way to strut your stuff. City had an early chance when Wright-Philips, probably the best player on the pitch, crossed for Fowler. Cesc looked class from the start and Arsenal started to play a bit after about ten minutes. Almunia, who failed to impress me, saved at the feet of Flood, the liveliest of City’s youngsters and their most effective.
Ryan Smith on our left showed some very controlled touches once he’d warmed up, after which Mills got stuck in to him. Larsson out of position at left back grew in authority as the match progressed. Flamini had a wild shot from range but he too settled, always looking to get forward, but showing his class and an ability to work back. Pennant kick started our confidence by drifting in from the right and started making things happen, this was mainly because he lacked service on the right before the break.
Cesc showed that he can be an excellent anchorman but always looked more comfortable as a playmaker, class is the word I’m looking for. City’s best chance of the first half came when Fowler, who is a shadow of his former self, shot a knock down header by Sibierski wide. There was a poor offside call against Lupoli who at just seventeen looked to be a very decent prospect and quite lively. Van Persie tried a forty-yard shot, as the game became a tad tetchy before the break. There was a wild shot from Flood and a header saved from Sibierski following Sinclair’s cross. For most of the game however Cygan and Senderos looked solid and composed. Having chosen short sleeves for the occasion of his captaincy Cygan played superbly. Just before the break there was a taster of things to come when Smith and Van Persie combined to set up a shot for Cesc which was saved. Half time and no goals but a few signs of promise had been shown, our pace was lacking a little of what we are more used to seeing though.
He was not alone in defending well, Larsson grew in confidence, Pennant worked back well, Hoyte looked comfortable and Senderos did well. Hoyte dealt particularly well with a dangerous Wright-Phillips cross aimed at Fowler. Van Persie went on a decent run and Smith was injured stretching into a second tackle. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie arrived to take Smith’s place and upped the pace almost immediately with his first run. Van Persie found Pennant well but his shot was wide. Robin then made space for a shot of his own that was saved. We looked good but the match was still wide open with Wright-Phillips having a shot saved at the other end. Quincy was testing Mills and Pennant set up Flamini with a shot following another good move. The real Arsenal had emerged now. ‘We love you Arsenal’ could be clearly heard in the background.
Senderos headed clear in a situation that suggested our defenders were not 100% confident in Almunia. I can’t quite believe what happened next, there was a ball played up to Van Persie who took it on his chest, put in a low cross which Lupoli tapped home. It was disallowed for handball, which it clearly wasn’t. Referee Peter Walton had looked like Collina compared to Riley’s Manchester performance, but he got that one wrong.
Lupoli was looking to run at Mills now and you could almost see the confidence beginning to ooze. Larsson on the left inside to Cesc, to Flamini, to Lupoli, to Flamini who squared it for Van Persie to shoot low past the keeper. 0-1 Arsenal and the goal was straight out of the first team’s pattern book. It was one touch, neat, fluid, crisp, slick, precise passing and an emphatic finish. There is an Arsenal style and the youngsters have it, we were looking at the future and the future looked good. ‘Stand up for the Champions’ and all credit to those fans that made it to Manchester for their support.
Fowler scored from a free kick on the edge of our box after Hoyte conceded the foul. It went straight past our wall and Almunia couldn’t get close. 1-2 Arsenal after almost 94 minutes. Final score. The delighted and very worthy winners went as a group to show their appreciation of the travelling Gooners. It was a small thing but further evidence that what we have here is a Club, a real football Club, who play the beautiful game the way it should be played and know that fans are important. We are the Arsenal and we are the best.
In a recent article for a Newcastle fanzine called ‘The Mag’ I suggested that we possibly have the best under 21 squad in the world. I rest my case.