Arsenal U18s will face an unfamiliar challenge tonight in their quest to progress further in this season’s FA Youth Cup. Having successfully navigated their way past a resilient Reading in the previous round, tonight they take on Royston Town, whose senior side currently ply their trade in the Evo-Stik League Southern.
Arsenal, given that they will be able to call upon players of the ilk of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley and Chris Willock, will be widely expected to prevail, but they won’t be taking anything for granted against the Hertfordshire-based side.
The Gunners’ dismal league form at U18 level this season has been well documented- they haven’t won since September- but the Youth Cup is a different proposition entirely and hopes are high that the youngsters can emulate or even exceed the progress made by last season’s side, who reached the Semi-Finals.
Victory tonight would set up another home tie in the Fifth Round, this time against Crewe Alexandra’s renowned academy. First, though, they must deal with the task in hand.
Royston are the only non-league side remaining in the competition, having won seven ties just to reach this stage. On a weekly basis they play in the Thurlow Nunn Youth League West Division, where they currently sit in third place behind Biggleswade Town and St. Neots Town.
They haven’t lost a competitive game this season and prevailed by the emphatic scoreline of 10-0 in their last fixture, against Huntingdon Town.
Tonight, though, they will have to be at their very best to avoid being on the end of a drubbing. Their key threat appears to be Ross Maddox, who scored four times in that victory over Huntingdon.
From an Arsenal perspective, the return of Maitland-Niles, who didn’t feature in the previous round due to his first-team commitments, should help to provide the side with more balance.
Ryan Huddart will continue in goal, but coach Frans De Kat has some decisions to make regarding his defence. Chiori Johnson is a certainty to start at right-back, with Stefan O’Connor operating at centre-back. George Dobson could continue alongside him, whilst Marc Bola’s recent return from injury could see him replace Tyrell Robinson.
Maitland-Niles will slot in alongside Zelalem in the deep-lying midfield positions, with Crowley and Willock amongst those operating further forwards.
Kaylen Hinds is a pushing for a place in the starting line-up following his impressive cameo in the league defeat to Reading last weekend, but Aaron Eyoma could retain his place on the right flank, with Stephy Mavididi leading the line.
Julio Pleguezuelo, Tafari Moore and Elliot Wright are all doubtful owing to injuries.
Eyoma, who has been in impressive form of late, says that Arsenal certainly won’t underestimate their opponents tonight.
Speaking to the Official Arsenal programme recently, Eyoma said: “I started in the last game and playing a part in the FA Youth Cup is a real honour. We all see it as very special and we next face Royston FC which gives the competition a beat of the appeal of the FA Cup, in that Royston are not a league team but have got through to the Fourth Round. We know they’ll do all they can to beat us.
“Royston are there on merit and must be a good side. We’ll be fully focused on beating them as we’re all keen to win the competition. To do that we’ll need to beat them and we will certainly not be taking anything for granted.”
Possible Arsenal team:
Eyoma-Crowley- C. Willock
subs: Keto, Smith, Robinson, Hinds, Sheaf.