Dan Crowley arrived at Arsenal in the summer with a reputation for being one of the country’s most promising youngsters, and, despite a month-long injury lay-off, he has so far managed to live up to that billing, turning in some superb performances for the club at U18 level in recent weeks.
That good form prompted coach Steve Gatting to name Crowley on the bench for Monday’s U21 Premier League defeat to Sunderland, and, although the midfielder was not called upon during the 90 minutes, he will be back at Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park ground tomorrow evening when Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup campaign gets underway against Torquay United.
It seems certain that Crowley will be included in the squad, but it is not currently clear whether he will be called upon to start the game or he will be on the bench again, with Arsenal possessing a range of midfield talents at this level, not least the likes of Gedion Zelalem and Jack Jebb.
If it is presumed that Zelalem and Jebb will both start, then perhaps Crowley’s only opportunity of earning a place in the starting line-up will be on the left flank, at the expense of Alex Iwobi, a player who, it must not be forgotten, made the bench for the first-team in the Capital One Cup earlier this season.
The Crowley or Iwobi dilemma will give coach Carl Laraman much to consider, but the rest of his side should not be too difficult to select. Matt Macey is poised to start in goal, with Tafari Moore and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill set to occupy the full-back berths, and Chuba Akpom in line to start up front.
Arsenal do currently have some problems in central defence, however, with both Stefan O’Connor and Julio Pleguezuelo facing late fitness tests as they seek to be involved. If neither of them make it, then a rather unconvincing partnership of Alfred Mugabo and Leander Siemann may have to be called upon.
Arsenal have been given some tough tests by lower-league opposition in this competition in the past, but will be hopeful of progressing against Torquay, with the main aim being for the youngsters to rediscover the feeling of winning after some difficult results at various youth levels recently.
One player set to play a prominent role in Arsenal’s Youth Cup campaign is Ainsley Maitland-Niles, with the winger having broken into the U21 side during the first few months of his scholarship. Direct and skilful, he will seek to cause the opposition defence all manner of problems tomorrow, whilst Arsenal will also be hoping that Zelalem will deliver a performance that is more reflective of his natural ability than some of his displays in recent weeks.