By Declan Taylor
Steve Bould must strike a balance between winning and development when Arsenal’s Under-18s lock horns with his former club Sunderland in the FA Youth Cup Fifth Round on Friday night.
The youth team boss spent a year under Peter Reid at the Stadium of Light in the twilight of his career, turning out 21 times for the Black Cats. This time, the trip North East represents one of the toughest ties left in the hat.
Like Arsenal, Sunderland sit pretty at the top of their Premier Academy League division. They have lost only once in their last 16 games in all competitions.
However, despite admitting that the FA Youth Cup is there to win, Bould refuses to disregard the long-running philosophies at Arsenal in order to do so.
“We want to win it but we want to win it doing the right things,” he told Arsenal.com ahead of the clash. “We don’t want to set up just to stop people playing or smash the ball for the sake of winning.
“We want to win it doing the things we want to do. It is all development and essentially, winning is part of that development.
“I think the lads realise the importance of it and they’re getting towards the business end. They’re all looking forward to it and they all want to win.”
Bould’s boys may be quietly confident of doing so, having disposed of pre-tournament favourites Aston Villa in Round Three before surging past Wolves in the next stage.
But each round has posed a different test and the 550-mile round trip to face last season’s FA Youth Cup Semi Finalists is no different.
So far, the Black Cats’ ominous league form has not been transferred to the cup. After a narrow 2-1 victory against minnows Cirencester Town, Kevin Ball’s side needed extra time to see off their Fourth-Round opponents Preston North End.
Bould won’t be taking any comfort from these results and is well aware of the qualities that the Sunderland academy boss will have instilled in his players.
“I know their coach Kevin Ball very well having played with him up at Sunderland,” said Bould. “They are very well-organised, extremely hard-working and look like a proper team who work for each other.
“Sometimes these results [Cirencester and Preston] can give a little bit of a false impression but I’ve seen their game against Preston and know that they won the league last year.
“It’s a really, really tough game for them but again it’s fabulous experience for everyone. We will travel the day before and treat it just like the first team do so they are all getting used to that. Playing at the Stadium of Light is a great test for them.”
In the Fourth-Round victory over Wolves, the Under-18s boasted Jack Wilshere in their ranks. However, with first-team games coming thick and fast at the moment, whether he will feature at Sunderland remains to be seen.
One man who will be eyeing a spot in Friday’s starting XI is Gilles Sunu who emerged from the bench to plunder a superb match-winning hat-trick against Wolves.
Bould hinted at his inclusion before assessing the chances of Wilshere featuring against the Black Cats.
“Gilles has a really top-class attitude and he deserved everything he got from the game. We’re hoping he can take that forward into the Sunderland game for us.
“I don’t know yet whether Jack will be included in the first-team squad for Saturday’s game against West Ham. If he’s not then another player will have to stand up and be counted. It is a great opportunity for somebody.”
After the hike up north and back it could be an altogether closer affair that awaits them in the Quarter Final. The winner on Friday will face either Plymouth or Tottenham away.
But first, to Sunderland.
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