By Lloyd Webb
What a week it has been for Marc Bola.
The defender has made real strides through Arsenal’s academy in recent years and his hard work was rewarded when he was included in the senior team’s training session for the first time on Friday.
Bola excelled in the under-18s last year but has since established himself as a regular in the under-21 side and has impressed manager Steve Gatting.
The Hale End product turned 18 in December and, ahead of the Gunners' FA Youth Cup fifth-round game at Coventry, says winning the competition would be “overwhelming” in the final year in which he is eligible to play.
Their goalkeeper used to play for Arsenal, Corey Addai, and was someone I used to speak to. The problem they might give us is they have a good striker who makes runs off the ballMarc Bola
“It is quite big to us,” he told Arsenal.com. “It is the last year playing this tournament so it is all in. You have to put everything into it. As a youngster it is huge. The academy pays special attention to it because Arsenal are one of the best clubs in England so we have to win it.
“We have a bit of banter around the club from the third years like Tafari Moore and Stefan O’Connor. Last year was not the best so we want to win as our age group, so this would be basically showing everyone up by winning it! The last time we won it was when Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin played, so it would look good.
“My aim is to get a few more sessions with the first team and develop my understanding as a left back. If I kick on and do as my coaches say, I feel like that next year I can then set new targets. I trained for the first time with everyone from the first team there but I have been in and around it when the international period is on and not everyone is there. I want to be there. I was nervous, I’m not used to seeing everyone like Alexis and Mesut.
"Seeing everyone was like ‘wow.’ Mesut stood out for me, he can do anything with the ball. Technically he is gifted. Francis Coquelin too, he keeps the shape throughout the whole team. He keeps the structure and that is key.
“They were all very welcoming before training. Per Mertesacker shakes everyone’s hand and everyone welcomes each other but during training he will encourage you and if you make a mistake he will say, ‘unlucky, don’t worry about it.’ He is that sort of person and I think on and off the pitch he is like that. That is where Arsenal get their discipline and everyone needs that in a team.”
The Gunners have registered convincing wins against Swansea City and West Brom and Bola believes they have the talent to go all the way - but will have to overcome a familiar face when they visit the Ricoh Arena.
"Their goalkeeper used to play for Arsenal, Corey Addai, and was someone I used to speak to. The problem they might give us is they have a good striker who makes runs off the ball."
You can follow live updates of the game against Coventry on Twitter via @Arsenal from 6.55pm (UK time) on Monday.Copyright 2017 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