Arsenal U18s have been handed the difficult task of a home tie with Newcastle United in the 3rd Round of the FA Youth Cup next month, meaning that Steve Gatting’s side face a considerable challenge if they are to progress beyond the 4th Round stage, which they haven’t reached since they last won the competition in 2008/09.
Gatting’s recent elevation from U16s coach to replace Pat Holland just a few months into the campaign spoke volumes of the inconsistencies that have surrounded the U18s so far this season, with Arsenal securing just three victories from their opening nine games, whilst being without a win since September.
One key factor behind their hesitant start has been the absence of key figures, with Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry, Hector Bellerin and Kristoffer Olsson all yet to feature at U18 level this season having been heavily involved for the U21 side and in the NextGen Series. The experience of second-years can make all the difference at U18 level, as evidenced when Jon Toral, working his way back to fitness following a lengthy spell on the sidelines, struck five goals in as many games at the start of the season.
All five players should start against Newcastle at Barnet’s Underhill Stadium, along with recently recruited goalkeeper Deyan Iliev, who made his debut for the club in the NextGen Series defeat to Marseille. In addition to those mentioned, three further second years are in line to feature, including two players who are yet to secure their long-term futures at the club. Isaac Hayden already has a professional contract to his name, but Zach Fagan and Anthony Jeffrey are still on scholarship deals which expire at the end of the season and, as such, will be hoping to prove their worth in this competition. Left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, who has impressed so far this season as well as training with the first-team on a couple of occasions, is also likely to be called upon.
The final place in the starting XI is likely to fall to Jack Jebb, who turned professional shortly after his 17th birthday earlier this season. There will be fierce competition for places on the bench, but, at present, those most likely to make the cut include Leander Siemann, Alex Iwobi, Alfred Mugabo, Austin Lipman and goalkeeper Josh Vickers, meaning that the remaining first-year scholars: Tarum Dawkins, Glen Kamara, Tom Dallison and Arinse Uade would miss out.
Having gone out in extra-time to Derby County at this stage in last season’s competition, Gatting will be looking to motivate his side, with the prospect of a visit to Emirates Stadium, a venue where many of this side has already played at this campaign, in the offing should they reach the Quarter-Finals.
Arsenal may be somewhat disappointed with their start to the league campaign, as they currently sit in fourth place in National Group One, but Newcastle have fared even worse and are currently rock bottom of Group Three, having conceded 27 goals in just 9 matches.
In a one-off game, however, with extra-time and penalties to follow if the score is level after 90 minutes, anything can happen and Arsenal, after last year’s experience in the competition, will know that more than most.
subs: Vickers, Mugabo, Siemann, Iwobi, Lipman.