It's Reserves Week on Arsenal.com. To kick us off Arsenal.com reporter Adam Clark reflects on the second string's 2006/07 campaign and explains why the future continues to look bright for the Gunners.
As a youth player at Arsenal the spotlight is always on you.
So much is made of Arsène Wenger's success with young talent and, as such, so much is expected of each and every youngster that comes through.
At a glance last season's Reserve League South table doesn't make kind reading - Arsenal finished ninth out of 10 - but the story is much brighter than the statistics suggest.
Barring the small number of occasions when first-team players offered a hand the Reserves were made up of players who will still be eligible to play in the Under-18 league in the season ahead. A lot of them were still on schoolboy terms.
The season before the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Fabrice Muamba, Anthony Stokes, Sebastian Larsson and Arturo Lupoli propelled the second string to a third-place finish but they all took various paths away from the Club before the 2006/07 campaign kicked off.
They were replaced by the likes of Fran Merida, Nacer Barazite, Gavin Hoyte, Rui Fonte and Abu Ogogo - all just 16 years old. Often overpowered by the no-nonsense approach of older, more physical opponents, victories were hard to come by. But there was something endearing about the commitment our youngsters showed to playing the Arsenal way and if their games had been scored like boxing the majority would have been stopped and three points awarded to the Gunners.
Coach Neil Banfield stressed from the very first game that his
youngsters would need time to adapt and improve. By the final third
of the season the players had started to reap the rewards of their
perseverance. A 2-2 draw with eventual champions Reading in April
was a significant marker - in October they'd lost 6-0 at the
In truth he'd always known his side had the potential; as an Under-18 squad they were sweeping all before them. Under the command of Steve Bould the same youngsters went unbeaten in the Academy League until February - a run of 22 games. All in all they lost just three times on the way to winning their league section and qualifying for the play-offs. They faced Leicester for a place in the national Final but lost an even battle 3-2 on a miserable day at the Arsenal training ground.
The real success story though was the FA Youth Cup. Wycombe Wanderers, Hull City, Bristol City and Cardiff City were all dispatched, setting up a mouth-watering two-legged Semi-Final with Manchester United.
A competition record attendance of 38,187 flocked to Emirates
Stadium to see the young Gunners take a 1-0 first-leg lead. At Old
Trafford they were 30 seconds away from winning in normal time only
to concede and then run out of steam in extra-time.
No worries, they'll all get another crack at it this season.
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