Pre-Match Report

Academy League Play-Off Semi-Final: Preview

By Declan Taylor

Academy boss Steve Bould admits it would be a disappointment if his Under-18s do not lift the Premier Academy League title this season.
Bould’s boys blitzed Group A of the Academy League, racking up 70 points in their 28 games and eventually finishing 25 points clear of second-place Norwich.
Tonight, Arsenal travel to Eastlands for their Play-off Semi-Final against Group C winners Manchester City who were equally dominant in their section, scooping 68 points.
Bould has already seen his side put City to the sword this season with a 6-2 aggregate victory in the FA Youth Cup. But the manager won’t read much into that result and, in fact, he wants to see more from his side this time around.
“The scores against City, at our place especially, flattered us a little bit,” Bould told “But, that said, we didn’t play anywhere near the level we are capable of.
“It would be nice to get back to playing at that sort of level but I know they’re not bad.
“We’re into the latter stages and it would be a disappointment if we didn’t go on and win it now. I think I’ve stressed all along that our main aim isn’t winning the Premier League.
“It was all about the development, it still is, but now we’re here it’s another great step, a good place to play and more vital experience for the kids.
“The Youth cup is the prestigious trophy that everybody at the Club wants to win – that’s the big one – but to win the Premier League as well would be a great feat for them.
“That double would be special, of course. It’s great for the kids too; it’s the highest accolade they can get at this age. If I was one of these kids at that age it would’ve been the highlight of many a year. We’re in it and we want to win it and we’ll be trying our best to do so.”
Bould’s League and Youth Cup selections have differed quite a lot this season but the manager is confident that, international commitments aside, his Eastlands XI will be as a strong as ever.
Jack Wilshere is one of a handful of Gunners currently involved in the Under-17s European Championship in Germany at the moment but Bould will be boosted by the return of two of his injured starlets.
“We’ve got Jack missing with England, Luke Freeman and Benik Afobe too,” the manager said. “But the good news is we’ve got Rhys Murphy in the squad and Conor Henderson who has been out for a while. We’re fairly strong, which we will need to be.

“Conor’s certainly one to watch. Touch wood his knee is OK and he has no other problems. He has got a bright future and a long way to go but he’s got all the potential there. He’s left-sided with a very good range of passing. He’s an excellent athlete too.
“Physically and technically he is very good but again, like all these kids, he has to prove his mental strength.”
And winning at Eastlands tonight would be the perfect way for Conor, and the rest of the young Gunners, to get that process underway.

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