Despite his young age, Danny Ballard has already had quite the journey.
After being released as a schoolboy back in 2016, the Northern Ireland youth international broke his ankle while on trial with Southampton and rejoined local club Stevenage to regain his fitness.
Ballard was poised to sign scholarship forms with Boro, but then he was offered a chance to rejoin us and he has not looked back since. Our FA Youth Cup captain, the defender has been an ever-present in the competition this season and even scored a towering header in Monday’s semi-final win over Blackpool.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster at Arsenal,” he told Arsenal.com. “Even looking back to when I got my scholarship I never thought I’d be in this position.
“At the start of the season, I don’t even think that as a team we thought we’d be here - we lost our first game of the season 4-1 to Fulham. We’ve all worked so hard, especially myself, and we're all really pleased to be in the final.
“I think it boils down to hard work and having a manager that trusts you and rewards dedication. Having a manager who gives you opportunities off that and I think I’ve taken my opportunities pretty well. It’s all starting to pay off.”
After comprehensively beating Blackpool we have set up a final clash with reigning champions Chelsea, and Ballard is relishing the opportunity to go toe to toe with his boyhood club.
“It’s a very strong Chelsea side. It will be really tough but we have the squad and team. If we play like we did today then we can definitely go on to win the cup.
“It will also be a good experience to play at another stadium like that, especially being a Chelsea fan as a kid! I’ve been to a few Chelsea games at Stamford Bridge so I’ll enjoy playing out there. It will be a huge experience and we can definitely do a job there.”
Copyright 2018 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.