For three seasons in succession, Arsenal U18s failed to progress beyond the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup, despite possessing players such as Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke and Oguzhan Ozyakup. That curse was broken by Austin Lipman’s memorable extra-time winner against Fulham last month, and victory over Everton at Underhill tomorrow evening would see the Gunners progress to the Quarter-Finals of the competition, meaning a possible fixture at Emirates Stadium for the youngsters.
There has been a significant change since that victory over Fulham, however, with Steve Gatting having been promoted to the role of U21 coach and Carl Laraman coming in to preside over the U18s. Laraman has suffered consecutive defeats in his first two league games in charge, but they have been with very inexperienced sides, and Gatting had also yet to taste victory prior to the demolition of Newcastle United in the Third Round in December.
This Youth Cup run has been blighted by postponements, but there can be no doubting the character of this Arsenal set-up, with Isaac Hayden leading the side from the back, Kristoffer Olsson keeping play ticking in midfield and Chuba Akpom a powerful, if not entirely prolific force up front. There are some concerns ahead of the Everton fixture, however, with regards to personnel. Midfielder Jon Toral missed the last round through injury and is set for a lengthy absence after undergoing an operation recently, whilst winger Anthony Jeffrey, who has been outstanding in this competition so far this season, is also doubtful. Hector Bellerin should be fit, but goalkeeper Josh Vickers faces a fitness test to determine whether he will make the bench.
Jeffrey’s likely absence is likely to provide Lipman with an opportunity to impress from the off, albeit from his less favoured position on the right flank, whilst Alex Iwobi, who came on in the last round, is another option to compensate for Jeffrey’s pace and directness. Arsenal and Everton have met twice in the U18 league already this season, with both sides prevailing in their home fixture, and Everton coach Kevin Sheedy admitted that he is not intimidated by Arsenal. He said: “We have watched them, we know about them and we have played against them twice this season. It will be a very difficult tie away from home but one we are looking forward to and one we know we can win. We have nothing to fear, we know they have some excellent players but so have we.”
Everton progressed past Southampton and Port Vale to reach this stage, defeating the latter 3-2 last week in extra-time, with Chris Long scoring a late winner. They possess some talented individuals, particularly midfielder George Green, and will certainly provide a stern test for the young Gunners. Laraman will, then, be hoping to induce the sort of character demonstrated in the previous round as Arsenal edge closer on the road to hopefully reclaiming the competition which they last won in 2009.
Mason Springthorpe- Signed from Shrewsbury Town, the agile goalkeeper has impressive reflexes.
George Waring- A prolific striker who scored the goal that secured Everton’s Academy League success in 2011.
Mateusz Taudul- Polish youth international goalkeeper likely to start tomorrow, has trained with Lukasz Fabianski.
Ibou Touray- Left-back who has featured regularly for the U21s and is a threat in an attacking sense.
Matthew Pennington- A versatile defender usually deployed at centre-back who has featured for the U21s.
Conor Grant- A dangerous winger with good technical ability, he provides a threat with his crosses.
Tom Molyneux- A central-midfielder capable of playing adept passes, whilst also possessing impressive strength.
Chris Long- A quick and dangerous striker, who has been called up by England at U16 and U17 levels.
Jasper Johns- Known as ‘JJ’, he is capable of playing in central midfield and at left-back and is an England youth international.
Jake Adelson- A first-year scholar who was born in Australia, he is most at home at centre-back.
Courtney Duffus- Another first-year; a quick and physically imposing centre-forward.
George Green- An England youth international midfielder who turned professional last month. Excellent passer of the ball.
Russell Griffiths- A goalkeeper previously with arch-rivals Liverpool, he is a rapidly improving shot-stopper.
Gethin Jones- A powerful midfielder who has been with Everton since the age of 12.
Curtis Langton- A left-footed centre-back who is in his first year as a scholar at Finch Farm.
Oliver Shannon- Capable of playing at full-back or in central-midfield, he is known for his willingness and dedication.
Likely Arsenal team:
subs: Vickers, Iwobi, Dawkins, Kamara, Siemann.