Portuguese goalkeeper Joao Virginia was the Gunners’ hero as they beat both Barcelona and Anderlecht on penalties to win the under-17 Future Cup in Amsterdam.
Virginia joined Arsenal last summer from Portuguese side Benfica and has only begun playing regularly in the under-18 league over the course of the last few matches, but staked his claim to become a more permanent fixture over the course of this tournament with a string of excellent performances.
After qualifying top of their group over the weekend, Arsenal faced Barcelona in the semi-finals first on Monday. The Spanish side had the better possession but could not get the better of Virginia, and were then fortunate to survive late on when Eddie Nketiah had a goal rather controversially ruled out for offside. The match finished 0-0 and went to penalties, where Josh Benson missed for the Gunners but Virginia’s two penalty saves saw Arsenal progress 4-2 to set up a final with Anderlecht.
YouTube: Highlights Arsenal – FC Barcelona
Just like the semi-final, the final was a tight, tense affair with chances at a premium and again the game ended 0-0. Once more Virginia was the hero, saving three more penalties and allowing Emile Smith-Rowe to convert the decisive spot kick to secure a 4-3 victory and win Arsenal the trophy.
YouTube: Finale Future Cup 2016: Anderlecht – Arsenal
While Barcelona’s Riqui Puig won Player of the Tournament, several Arsenal players had very good tournaments as well. In front of the aforementioned Virginia, Tobi Omole superbly marshalled the defence as he looks to nail down a place in the under-18 side for next season. In midfield, Vlad Dragomir, signed in the summer from Romanian side Timisoara, looks every inch an Arsenal midfielder. He always has his head up allowing him to have a good awareness of what’s going on around him, plus he showed quick feet several times to escape from a tight spot. Other bright players included Smith-Rowe, Nketiah, and Trae Coyle.
It’s back to business for the Gunners’ youth sides over the next week, with the under-21’s heading to Blackburn as they look to consolidate their push for promotion before the under-18’s host Manchester City in the FA Youth Cup semi-final looking to recover from their 2-1 defeat in Manchester.