We saw Arsenal win their third Youth Cup Final on Saturday. Here’s a little report…

FA Girls’ Youth Cup Final 2016

Arsenal 5-1 Manchester United, 1pm, 16th April, St. George’s Park

On Saturday, the dominant force in the youth game in the south met one of the strongest teams in the north, on a superb surface in the Midlands at the home of English football, St. George’s Park.

(Manchester United Foundation team warm up)

(Arsenal starting eleven)

(Manchester United squad)

The national cup for U-17s sides from across The FA’s network of Centres of Excellence for girls is in its fifth year, having been introduced in 2011-2012 to provide competitive game experience for the older age groups and it’s one that John Bayer’s (Technical Director at Arsenal) teams have excelled in. The Gunners have now appeared in four finals and though this team featured a number of new faces alongside some of the remaining triumphant class of 2015, they started the match much more confidently than their counterparts from Manchester United Foundation. In fact, the north Londoners appeared to have a significant size and strength advantage, in most positions across the field but despite lots of possession and pressure, they were repeatedly thwarted in front of goal by some brave and excellent keeping from United’s number one, Emily Ramsey (who is still only 15 years old) and some committed, last ditch defending from her team mates too.

Arsenal were peppering Ramsey’s goal with corners and shots but it was actually Chloe Fisher, at the other end, who had the first real chance to score. Unfortunately, when the ball fell to her just 7-8 yards out, her shot was straight at Arsenal’s Amelia Houghton Boyle.

Further saves, (which were ‘Schmeichel-esque’ said my notes) from Ramsey kept it goalless until approaching the half hour mark, when the ever-dangerous Lauren James (and youngest on the field, at only 14), so often the catalyst to Arsenal attacking moves, cut inside from the left to the edge of the 18 yard area and curled a low shot into the bottom right hand corner to open the scoring.

It was not long before full back Anna Patten had drilled in the second at the near post – Ramsey felt she should have done better but then she’d already performed heroics – and shortly before half time, Jessica Ngunga (playing wide right in the Arsenal forward line) made it three, from the edge of the box.

With the commanding Lotte Wubben-Moy breaking up and directing play from just in front of the back four for Arsenal and plenty of industry and attacking intent and pace in front of her, the reigning cup holders looked good for their comfortable lead. In contrast to the somewhat overawed United team (who were also weakened by niggling injuries to key players, including captain Ellie Fletcher and midfielder Lucy Ashworth-Clifford), Arsenal were revelling in the occasion and playing in front of a crowd of just over 400.

United’s coach Tom Fitton had been shouting encouragement from the touchline throughout the first period but he must have been happy to get his players into the changing rooms to settle and refocus his young charges. Teams don’t get to national finals without having the qualities to have earned that passage and so it was fantastic to witness the character displayed during United’s second half display and to see some of the fight and skill that saw them crush Leeds, Everton and Stoke City en route to St. George’s Park. They stepped up a level started to compete across the field, showing for the ball, seemingly all nerves gone.

In fact, somewhat cruelly, it was because they went straight on the offensive after half time that they were caught on the break by the ruthless Arsenal forward line, who grabbed a fourth when the ball squirmed out from a tackle and rolled kindly in front of the positive running striker Tinaya Alexander who buried her chance to make it 4-0.

Undeterred, United went forward again and they were rewarded when the slight but very neat midfielder Levi Rathburn struck a free kick from distance, which Houghton Boyle could not keep out. 4-1, even if the celebrations might have fooled you into thinking the scoreline was a little closer! Got to love the passion though.

Manchester United (a programme that has produced talent including Katie Zelem, Gabby George, Millie Turner amongst others) continued to pressure Arsenal but the Gunners were not quite done, as captain Laura Hooper delivered a nice birthday gift to her mum by knocking in the fifth, to round off the scoring. To say Arsenal dominated would not be to exaggerate but to say that there was surely more to come from Manchester, on a different day, would not be unfair either.

So, congrats Arsenal Ladies, their football was entertaining, their threats going forward were myriad and their joy at the final whistle was justified. It might be the end of this year’s cup competition and for many, also their time in Centres of Excellence, but all of the players it is still just the beginning of their footballing journey.

Manchester United (starting line-up): Emily Ramsey, Yvette Loukes, Olivia Wilkes, Levi Rathburn, Ellie Fletcher, Olivia Wilson, Lucy Ashworth-Clifford, Chlose Fisher, Sophie Goodwin, Keeley Goodwin, Freya Tan. Substitiutes: Hollie Massey, Jessica Frater, Justine Elliot, Irina Tomic, Grace Wardle, Corie Mather, Maria Baptista

Arsenal (starting line-up): Amelia Houghton Boyle, Anna Patten, Shannon Cooke, Ellie Perkins, Taylor Hinds, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Laura Hooper, Anna Filbey, Lauren James, Tinaya Alexander, Jessica Ngunga. Substitutes: Holly Greenwood, Brionne Fowle, Grace Neville, Sydnie Naylor, Rebecca Hawkins, Georgina Morton, Emma Kelly.


Images: FA via Getty Images

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