FA Youth Cup final first leg preview – Arsenal face difficult task away to Chelsea


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It has certainly been an eventful end to the campaign for Arsenal at youth level, with the U23s winning the title last week and having the possibility of further success in the final of the Premier League International Cup, in which they will face Porto.

Tonight, though, the focus is on the U18s, who have made it through to the final of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in nine years, with Chelsea their opponents.

The Blues have won the last four editions of the prestigious tournament, which provides an indication of the magnitude of the task that Arsenal face, both at Stamford Bridge tonight and in the return leg at Emirates Stadium on Monday.

Chelsea have several players who are capable of hurting Arsenal, especially attacker Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has been involved with the first-team this season, and midfielder Billy Gilmour.

This week Chelsea U19s were beaten by Barcelona in the final of the UEFA Youth League and many of those players will be in action again this evening, meaning that they will be especially eager to prevail.

One player who won’t feature is Ethan Ampadu, with the starlet, whose father Kwame coaches Arsenal’s team, currently out injured.

As far as Arsenal are concerned, Ampadu senior has a strong squad to choose from and his side should be full of confidence following their dominant performance in the semi-final second leg against Blackpool, when they ran out 5-0 winners.

Since then Ampadu’s team have been thrashed 9-0 by Tottenham Hotspur in the league – the joint-worst result at youth level in the club’s history – but that was with a much-changed team and none of the players who started that game are likely to be involved from the outset tonight.

Arsenal will need their defence to be resilient tonight and this is a particularly significant occasion for the Gunners’ likely centre-back pairing of Danny Ballard and Zech Medley.

Ballard, who has captained the side well during this campaign, supported Chelsea growing up and will relish playing at Stamford Bridge, while Medley left the Blues last season to join Arsenal as he felt he would receive more opportunities in north London.

James Olayinka, who offers much with his blend of energy and technique, is likely to be called upon in central midfield again at the expense of Trae Coyle and Matt Smith, while it is hoped that Emile Smith Rowe, who had a trial at Chelsea aged nine before signing for Arsenal, will be able to produce a dominant display again.

Winger Xavier Amaechi has been hugely impressive in this cup run and could have a major part to play again, while Tyreece John-Jules will be looking to score having surprisingly failed to find the net in the second leg against Blackpool.

Reiss Nelson is eligible but it remains to be seen whether he will be play or will instead be needed for the first-team.

This promises to be an intriguing tie and, given the quality of the opposition, a draw tonight would certainly be a positive result for Arsenal going into the second leg, but they have the quality to get an even better result.

Possible team:

Virginia

Daley Campbell-Ballard-Medley-Thompson

Burton-Olayinka

Balogun-Smith Rowe-Amaechi

John Jules

Subs: Okonkwo, Olowu, M. Smith, Coyle, Saka.

Injured: Crean, Tormey, Clarke.

Other players: Beckford, Benson, Omole, Barden, McEneff, McGuinness, Spencer-Adams, Swanson.

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