By Declan Taylor
Steve Bould has labelled his young side “natural born winners” ahead of what he describes as the biggest game of their careers.
The Under-18s head north to Manchester for the first leg of their FA Youth Cup Semi Final against current holders Manchester City tonight, still buoyed by their dramatic victory over Tottenham in the last round.
Despite falling behind in the sixth minute at White Hart Lane, last-gasp goals from captain Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Rhys Murphy handed Arsenal the victory after Kyle Bartley’s equaliser in the 51st minute.
It was not the first time that Bould’s boys have served up late drama in the cup this season, having twice gone behind at Aston Villa to win in Round Three. According to their manager, both results are evidence of the character within the squad.
“It’s alright saying that you shouldn’t panic if you go behind but it is another thing doing it; they seem to have that knack,” Bould told Arsenal.com ahead of the tie. “We talk about winning games, these kids want to win games. They are natural-born winners.
“Not only was the Tottenham result massive but the performance was as well. Tottenham played well too and I think it was a magnificent advert for youth football in this country.
“There were 19 English players on that pitch and with people bemoaning the lack of home-grown players, I thought the standard of football was magnificent.”
For now, Bould rates that victory over Arsenal’s arch-rivals as the high point of his coaching career. However, not one to rest on his laurels, the manager thinks that the Eastlands clash is another test entirely.
“I think it was by far and away the best feeling I have had as a coach,” he continued. “It doesn’t quite add up to playing days but I thought that night went very close
“It was a great game, a great occasion and the kids produced under pressure which was very nice. But it is always more important the further you go – this is more important, it’s the next game. The Spurs game has gone now and we are moving very close to going on and achieving what we want which is winning it.
“We are under no illusions about the task in hand. We have spoken about the City game and pointed out that they will probably be a tougher task than Tottenham.
“This game does become the biggest game of their careers now. They need to forget about Tottenham, just like the first teamers would have to do, it doesn’t matter about the result there – it’s all about the next game.
“We have to turn up with the pressure on again and perform again.”
Although Bould might make changes in attack and midfield, you can be sure that the manager will keep faith in his usual back-four line up. As a member of that famous Gunners defence, Bould knows a thing about defensive stability, and he believes that a settled back four is crucial even at such a young age.
“In terms of the Youth Cup it’s very important,” he explained. “If you want to go and win the thing then you need a settled team, especially the back four.
“Craig Eastmond has filled in at right back and had the toughest evening of all against Spurs. He has masses of character and it never got to him. Kyle Bartley has improved steadily all through the season and Luke Ayling has been fabulous all year. Also, I thought Tom Cruise was very, very good on the night against Spurs.”
With Man City 15 points clear at the top of their Academy League, without defeat in their 21 games this season, and a goal difference of plus 43, you sense that defence might be the best form of attack in this first leg at Eastlands.
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