Our kids are going to a Cup Final! Well it may not be a glamorous affair at Wembley, though I’m not sure if we’d be keen to play on that pitch anyway. We’ll play two legs on a home-and-away basis. Having been knocked out of both domestic cups despite some fantastic performances in earlier stages, we have set up a chance of rewarding the club’s youth development efforts with a trophy, a smaller one but a meaningful one all the same. With the last triumph coming from 2001 – Steve Sidwell, Jermaine Pennant, Jeremie Aliadiere, Justin Hoyte and some lesser known kids got the winners’ medals – I very much hope we can pick up the FA Youth Cup again this year.
I feel that Gooners tend to pay more attention to the reserves and youth team than some other fans because of the amount and quality of the promising kids coming through, as evidenced in their performances in the domestic cups. This season, with some of our young players out on loan (Senderos, Simpson, Fonte, Lansbury, Rodgers, Steer, Botelho and Nordveit), the sides that Steve Bould has fielded have been even younger and less experienced than before. However, this young but talented side had knocked out Aston Villa, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Spurs with a combination of good football and grit. On Wednesday evening, we moved one step closer to the youth trophy with an impressive 4-1 win (6-2 on aggregate) over holders Manchester City at the Emirates, after a mixed but spirited performance yielded a good 2-1 result in the first leg up north in March.
Kids like Walcott, Vela, Gibbs and Denilson who started playing for Wenger in the Carling Cup in the last two years have been in and around our first-team action this season. The encouraging story of 19-year-old Kieran Gibbs, the latest youth academy graduate who has established himself as Clichy’s understudy, has been a source of inspiration to the even younger kids on occasions like this.
As with the first team, the youth team is set up to play attacking football and tends to get a smoother cruise if they manage to take an early lead. Sanchez Watt only took 34 seconds to strengthen our advantage and then three more goals came in the first 31 minutes. Watt completed his brace after Jack Wilshere scored a penalty and Kyle Bartley a header. Ahmad Benali added a consolation goal for Man City just before the break. I didn’t watch the game – it’s early in the morning here and I couldn’t stand another late night after our league game at Anfield. You can go to arsenal.com for the match report. Gooners who went to the game can also tell us what you think about the kids here or in the forums.
At the same time, Arsenal legend Steve Bould has guided his young side to a very healthy position in the Under-18s so far this season. We are now the deserved favourites to win the Youth League with an impressive 26-point lead in the table, having played one game more than some of the teams.
The other semi-finalists, Liverpool and Birmingham, will face each other on 24th April. Liverpool, who beat Manchester United to the FA Youth Cup on penalties in 2007, are going into the second leg tomorrow with a 3-0 lead at Anfield. Well unless they concede 4 like their first team has done twice recently, it’s most likely Liverpool that our kids will face over two legs in May.
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