Youngsters impress in early rounds on Arsenal’s road to latest Wembley final
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
The road to Wembley Stadium and the 2020 Heads Up FA Cup final has presented its share of challenges for Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta had only recently been hired as head coach when Championship leaders Leeds came to the Emirates on January 6, sniffing an upset.
And the Gunners came under pressure in the first half, with Patrick Bamford hitting the crossbar and Emi Martinez denying Ezgjan Alioski.
A more determined second-half display by the Gunners followed, though, and Alex Lacazette hit the crossbar from a free-kick, before his cross fell into the path of Reiss Nelson to net the only goal of the game.
That set up another Monday night tie at Premier League rivals Bournemouth in the fourth round, when Arsenal’s youngsters came to the fore once again.
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The 18-year-old Bukayo Saka smashed a shot into the roof of the net inside five minutes, after Joe Willock and Gabriel Martinelli combined in a build-up that featured all 10 outfield players and 22 passes in total.
And it was 2-0 when Willock picked out Saka on the left and his cross was tucked home by Eddie Nketiah.
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The hosts hit back in the eighth minute of injury time, but it was only a consolation and Arsenal were back on the south coast at League One outfit Portsmouth in the last 16 in early March.
Nelson crossed for Sokratis to volley home in first-half stoppage time at Fratton Park and burst down the right to centre for Nketiah to net at the second attempt to double the lead soon after the restart.
Pablo Mari impressed on his Arsenal debut, but Lucas Torreira was stretchered off as the Gunners booked a quarter-final trip to Sheffield United.
The tie was delayed until June 28 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which saw football suspended for three months, and John Lundstram had a goal ruled out by VAR at Bramall Lane.
Nicolas Pepe converted from the penalty spot in the first half, after Lacazette was fouled, but after John Egan had an effort ruled out, the Blades got back on terms with three minutes left through David McGoldrick.
With extra time looming, Dani Ceballos fired an injury-time winner to send the Gunners into the last four and a meeting with holders Manchester City.
After coming under heavy pressure early on, they saw captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang miss a great chance when put through by David Luiz.
But he made amends with a controlled half volley from Pepe’s cross, after an 18-pass move involving 10 players.
Aubameyang raced on to Kieran Tierney’s through ball to double the advantage in the second half and Martinez denied Riyah Mahrez, as City saw a host of other attempts blocked by a disciplined Gunners outfit to give Arteta a famous win over his old club.