Arsenal’s latest FA Youth Cup campaign gets underway tomorrow night when they take on Reading, and, as is often the case, it will be an opportunity for the young Gunners to put their inconsistent league form to one side.
Following the trend set by his predecessors, coach Frans De Kat has often fielded unfamiliar teams in league fixtures, with several schoolboys featuring, but for tomorrow’s game he will select his strongest possible side.
He will still be without some key individuals, however. Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ participation is in doubt as he may be needed for the first-team squad again, whilst Marc Bola is out injured and there are also question marks about the fitness of fellow defenders Tafari Moore and Julio Pleguezuelo.
There will still be some familiar names on show, however, with Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley both set to start, whilst Stefan O’Connor, who featured in the Champions League just last week, will be one of the more experienced players in the side at centre-back.
Young full-backs Chiori Johnson and Tyrell Robinson will be relied upon to provide pace down the flanks, where they could be supported by fellow first-years Aaron Eyoma and Chris Willock.
Possible Arsenal team:
subs: Keto, Chatzitheodoridis, Sheaf, Mourgos, Hinds.
Kaylen Hinds is back from injury but may not be sharp enough to start, so Stephy Mavididi may be preferred up front.
Arsenal got all the way to the Semi-Finals of this competition last season, and, should they prevail tomorrow, they will start to envisage another lengthy run, with the winners of this tie set to face the academy of Evo-Stik League Southern side Royston Town.
Before they can look too far ahead, though, Arsenal must be wary of Reading. The Berkshire club traditionally have a very good academy and the two sides shared the points when they met in the league earlier this season.
Here’s an insight into the Reading team that was kindly provided by Tom, a commenter on the blog:
Last season we had a very strong side, mostly compose of second year scholars. The last time we had a team that strong, eight went on to play in the Championship (including three in the PL). Last season was stronger and I think they’ll have stronger careers. Three have played in the first team already.
At the start of this season, we gave a lot of the new second year scholars a chance to shine. Whilst they are generally talented players, some of them didn’t seem to suit each other. We also had some trouble with injuries, and we don’t really have a left winger.
Things have improved in the last few matches as we’ve brought in some more first years and found a bit of balance. Conor Davis has been a bit of a revelation as our third or fourth left winger of the season, and Harrison Bennett is a credible defensive midfielder and a better partner for Noor Husin than (arguably more talented) Amadu Waritay or Lewis Collins.
Our strongest players are Husin, Harry Cardwell up front, Tennai Watson and Jake Sheppard at full back, and Lewis Ward in goal. Ward, Cardwell and Watson were starters last season and Husin would have been any other year. Sheppard has had two years out with injury and has already missed a month of this season, but he is an excellent and versatile footballer. If he can get over his injuries then the only thing I can see stopping him playing for Scotland would be an England call up.
Our main weakness at all levels is a lack of pace at the back, we’re frequently caught on the counter. We have four strikers with good technique (Cardwell, Novakovich, Sam Smith and Josh Barrett), but none of them have been especially clinical this season. Cardwell is a very capable player but he should be on course for 20 goals this season, he’s not been too hot in front of goal. The left hand side has been an issue but it looks like the pairing of Sheppard and Davis has finally done the trick. We’re also not as good between the lines any more – Sheppard’s return to fitness has helped that to an extent.
I’m not confident that we’ll do well against you but we’ve definitely improved since the draw, including beating Chelsea.
Tennai Watson–Marc Ethelston–Gabriel Osho–Jake Sheppard
Hammad Lawal—-Noor Husin—Harrison Bennett—Conor Davis
—————–Andrea Novakovich—Harry Cardwell—————–
Subs: Southwood (gk), Jules, Waritay/Collins, Smith, Barrett
Smith, Urbancic or Barrett could come in for Lawal or Novakovich, and Zak Jules might play at centre back.
I think you’re probably the favourites this year along with Man City, Middlesborough and Chelsea. I feel we have a fighting chance if we can get past you but we’d do well to. As with our U21 and senior sides, we’re better than the league suggests, but I really don’t know what to make of this side.