By Joe Brewin
“Every year we always think we've got a good enough team to go on and win it,” said Steve Bould on the eve of his side’s FA Youth Cup curtain-raiser against Derby.
Having masterminded the team’s 2009 success, there is no reason to doubt the former Arsenal defender. Bould has helped oversee the Club’s youth development since 2001, watching the likes of Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny all progress into the Arsenal first team.
All have learned their trade in the Youth Cup over the years and Bould believes there is no better platform for his rising stars.
“It's their big competition,” he told Arsenal.com ahead of Wednesday’s tie at Underhill. “It's their chance, if we get into the later rounds, to play in the bigger stadiums. The further you go the crowds get bigger and you may get the chance to play at the Emirates. It's a fabulous competition for them.
“At their age it is the biggest stage, it's the thing we all want to win. It's great to win the league but the Youth Cup is the one that everybody puts their strongest teams out for.
“It's not about winning it though, it's about looking further down the line and giving them some experience of the big games.
“I think the kids can treat this competition more like a first-team game. The whole preparation is different from their normal Saturday games - for example if we're playing away we might be in a hotel and have a pre-match meal. The build-up is completely different.”
Arsenal’s Third-Round opponents are Derby County, who currently ply their trade in Group D of the Premier Academy League. Bould admits the Rams are something of an unknown quantity for his young team.
“We don't know an awful great deal about them to be honest,” he said. “I've had couple of reports from people who have seen them and I've seen a couple of DVDs but we don't really know their full team because each time we've seen them they've had different line-ups.”
Last season’s campaign ended in premature disappointment as Bould’s side crashed out in the Fourth Round at Stamford Bridge.
A heart-breaking last-minute winner proved decisive but the Under-18s boss believes his team is more robust now.
“It was a tight affair but I think this year's team is maybe a little bit stronger than last time,” said Bould. “It's a little bit younger in many respects but there's a lot of talent there. You always need a bit of luck and I think we can go a long way.
“Each year it's a different team, there's not too many that were involved in last year's campaign. Most of the players have moved on and the next crop comes in.
“I think it just takes a bit of belief and some team spirit [to win it]. I think in the year we won it the team spirit just got bigger and they were more together. The further we go it will be a bigger experience for the kids and that's what we're looking for.”Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source