By Declan Taylor
It’s perhaps pertinent that a season in which Arsenal have come under-fire for their first-team inexperience will be finally concluded by their rampant Under-18s.
Arsene Wenger’s seniors wrapped up 2008/09 with a classy victory over Stoke on Sunday. Given that the Ladies and Reserves finished their campaigns weeks ago, Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup Final second leg at Anfield will be the Club’s final contest before the summer.
And it just so happens that their trip to Merseyside falls on May 26, 2009 – 20 years to the day since Michael Thomas’ stoppage-time goal secured a 2-0 victory and the First Division title against Liverpool.
This time, with a 4-1 aggregate advantage going in to the clash, Steve Bould’s boys know that they can afford to lose by two clear goals but still claim the prize - certainly youth football’s most prestigious trophy.
For Arsenal, the accolade would be concrete evidence that Wenger’s overall philosophy is built upon the firmest foundations.
Of course Bould is not taking his side’s three-goal advantage for granted. If anything the manager thinks it could be a hindrance.
“The problem now is it’s ours’ to lose,” Bould told Arsenal.com “That creates different pressures and different things to handle. We have to guard against that and do it properly because the game isn’t won. I want a proper job done up there.
“You’ve seen what one or two of them can be like so keeping a lid on it is the difficult thing now.
“But we have got a great start and we would have taken that win all day long before the game. The thing that pleased me the most was the performance. I thought the kids were all fabulous.
“With the watching public, manager, 33,000 in the crowd I thought they performed at as high a level as we could have asked.”
Emmanuel Frimpong limped off after 15 minutes of the first leg and his groin injury looks set to keep the tenacious midfielder out of the second leg too.
That could open the door once again for Sanchez Watt who replaced Frimpong at Emirates Stadium to notch the goal of the night with a sublime chip in the 57th minute.
“That’s the level that Sanchez can play,” Bould said of the striker’s performance.
“I have seen him play like that a few times but it’s probably that consistency level that he needs to get.
“Rhys Murphy has been a little bit short in games after his injury. He would probably have started the first leg had he been fully fit but he has been missing for a while.
“In all fairness Gilles [Sunu] and Sanchez deserved their crack this time around. Plus I wanted to get Jack [Wilshere] more central. The move changed the game and Jack saw a lot of the ball and he looked an awfully good player.”
Wilshere is one of the most familiar faces in the group which Wenger described as “the best since I’ve been here”. Better even than the Youth Cup-winning side of 2001.
Back then Arsenal also did their damage in the first leg with a 5-0 victory against Blackburn Rovers. Although the cushion isn’t quite as healthy this time around, history might just be on their side.
It’s definitely up for grabs now.
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