By Nick Teale
Arsenal Under-18s host Ipswich Town in the FA Youth Cup Fourth Round at Underhill tonight and Steve Bould's side are expecting one of the toughest tests of their season.
The Gunners had to come from behind three times before overcoming Crewe Alexandra on penalties in the last round. Chuks Aneke scored twice in that match and Luke Freeman was also on the scoresheet. Both are expected to feature tonight.
Cedric Evina is set to continue his role as captain and will be joined at centre-half by Ignasi Miquel.
Reserve-team regular Emmanuel Frimpong is expected to play in midfield with Benik Afobe and Roarie Deacon partnering Freeman in attack.
Among the ranks of tonight's visitors is hotly-rated young striker Connor Wickham. The 16-year-old has already made 17 first-team appearances for Ipswich and has reportedly attracted the interest of a number of Premier League clubs.
Bould is well aware of the young Englishman's talents and knows that keeping Wickham quiet could be the key to progression tonight.
"He is a real handful," the Under-18s manager told Arsenal.com. "He scored twice against us in the League and if he plays it will be an exceptional test for our young defenders.
"Ipswich will close us down and work extremely hard. They will try and hit us on the counter-attack with Wickham's pace and he's also very good in the air at six feet three inches.
"We've lost twice to them, once in the League and they beat us pre-season as well. They're a very hard-working team with a few good individuals and if you'd hand picked the ties this would certainly be one of the toughest games we could have ended up."
But Bould has full confidence in his squad and knows they are as talented as any other side he has nurtured through the Club's youth ranks.
"If they play to the level they are capable of they are as good as any other team we've had here," he explained.
"Last year's was an exceptional side. I think that was well known and it was one that doesn't come along too often.
"But if they perform to their best level the set of lads we have now, who are a lot younger than last year's team, are very close to that side."
Many of the stars of last season's side, which won the Youth League and Cup double, have now graduated from the academy. That leaves the current crop relatively young compared to many of their opponents.
But that isn't a concern for manager Bould, who knows the Youth Cup can provide them with the experience necessary to develop into top-class players.
"They might be a little bit young and a little bit inexperienced but they are more than capable," he said.
"I don't measure myself as a coach on silverware at youth level. It is fantastic and great for the Club but the crux of it all is if we get players going on to the first-team, either here or elsewhere. That's what we are aiming for.
"In the Cup the crowds get bigger, the pressure gets bigger and we cant replicate that in our League.
"It gives them that little bit of pressure, doing it the first-team way, going to hotels and seeing how first-team players do it and playing under pressure in front of crowds. That's the big thing we get out of it in the end.
"I think Arsène Wenger spoke about last year's group not necessarily because they were as talented as they were but because they had a belief and character about them that they weren't going to get beat.
"All good players have that trait and hopefully one or two of these lads can pick that up and take it on from there.
"Their spirit was the one big thing to come out of the [Third Round] game against Crewe.
"We didn't perform at anywhere near the level they are capable of but character wise it was a bit of an eye opener for everybody.
"It's nice that they've got that because all good players and all good teams have that spirit so hopefully they can build on that and take some experience from it."
The reward for tonight's victors in the Fifth Round is a home tie against Fulham, who beat Bolton Wanderers on penalties after a 2-2 draw in their Fourth Round clash.
Arsenal.com will bring you live text commentary from tonight's game and TV Online subscribers can enjoy the best of the action from the game on Wednesday morning with extended highlights available later in the afternoon.