Young Gunners out to rekindle the Arsenal spirit at Anfield
Arsenal s oft-talked about youngsters will hope to write their own page in the club s glorious history at the scene of a previous generation s greatest triumph later this month. Steve Bould s talented under 18s tackle their Liverpool counterparts in the s
Arsenal's oft-talked about youngsters will hope to write their own page in the club's glorious history at the scene of a previous generation's greatest triumph later this month.
Steve Bould's talented under 18s tackle their Liverpool counterparts in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup final at Anfield on May 26 - 20 years to the day George Graham's never-say-die team, of which Bould was an integral member, beat Kenny Dalglish's all-conquering Liverpool side to win their first league title since 1971.
To add to the pressure, an Arsenal hero from yet another generation, 70s legend Liam Brady, will be watching every kick from the Anfield stands.
"We are all tremendously proud of our young side for getting this far," Brady, the club's head of youth development, tells Ham&High Sport.
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"They have done it the hard way but they have also shown true Arsenal spirit; They came from behind at a very strong Aston Villa side to win.
"They then beat Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in front of nearly 20,000 - and I have to say that Spurs side is excellent.
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"They have invested heavily in their youth development at Tottenham and it showed. It was live on Setanta but you would never have known it was a game full of teenagers.
"The technical level was very high - and it was played at a very fast pace. It was a genuinely fantastic game of football to watch. Spurs provided a great match.
"Then, in the semi-final, we go and win at the holders, Manchester City - not an easy thing to do - before beating them very well back at the Emirates. It's been a great, great run to get to the final."
Brady, though, knows the job isn't done.
"They may have shown tremendous character but, and I know Steve (Bould) has been telling them this, they haven't won it yet," he warns. "They face two tough games because Liverpool are very good..."
Michael Thomas, a product of an Arsenal youth side which also produced Tony Adams, Niall Quinn and Paul Merson, famously scored that injury time winner back in May 1989, a result that will be remembered fondly back in north London on its anniversary.
To add to the air of fate, Arsenal's skipper for the forthcoming trip is Jay Emmanuel THOMAS... "Oh, that little detail has been spotted," laughs Brady, "Somebody said it when the dates were confirmed for the final, that Thomas could score the winner in the last minute again!
"It would be very nice to emulate that terrific night 20 years ago ... we're aware of the date!"
An FA Youth Cup winners' medal eluded Brady in his youth - but only just.
"I signed on for the club in the summer of 1971 when I was just 15," he recalls.
"A month or so earlier Arsenal had won the FA Youth Cup with the likes of Brendan Batson and Terry Burton in the side.
"The closest I got was the semi-finals a couple of years later. We lost to Spurs, if I remember rightly... that was not good!
"Then, as it still is now, the competition was a big deal. It matters and has a certain kudos.
"Setanta have been showing games live and the lads get exposure on Arsenal TV.
"And, importantly, and we are grateful for this, the fans have really taken to the competition.
"It's only a couple of years since more than 38,000 flocked to the Emirates to see us beat Manchester United's lads. That was incredible.
"It would be wonderful to win the cup this year - and it would be great to see as many fans as possible at Emirates for the first leg."
Brady, though, is looking at the bigger picture; ensuring some of his young players can, eventually, challenge for a place in the first team squad.
"That is what we are here to do," he explains, "my job is to get these talented youngsters into the academy and make sure they are given every chance of becoming Arsenal first team players.
"If we are not delivering, then we are failing. I want to get as many lads up to that level as I can and I have the right coaches and facilities to do it.
"And I believe we have done well. Players like (Nicklas) Bendtner, Ashley Cole, Jack Wilshere, Kieron Gibbs... they have all moved up. And it's wonderful when that happens.
"But, and this is so important, we want to make sure that if it doesn't happen here, they are good enough to forge a career at another club.
"In an ideal world we'd want all of our young lads to have a career in professional football, obviously."
Brady, however, clearly has immense pride at the job Bould is doing with the club's starlets - and says he tries his best ''not to interfere''.
"Steve chooses the tactics and picks the team and makes all the decisions for his squad," adds Brady, who left Arsenal for a glittering career in Italy in 1980 after 235 appearances and 43 goals.
"From the first team down we have a certain style of play. We like to play the ball out through the defenders, using the fullbacks, and passing the ball all the time, that is the style of the club under Arsene (Wenger).
"It's my job to get these young players into the academy, but Steve is left to his own devices - and he is doing extremely well. He's forging a very good career as a coach."
And the Irishman maintains continuity is an important Arsenal trait.
"First and foremost, I try and surround myself with good staff," he says.
"I believe it is very important we have 'Arsenal people' here, people who know the club.
"Steve, of course, fits into that category. Also, we have people like Steve Gatting and David Court here doing invaluable work. They've all played first team football for Arsenal and understand what this club is all about.
"That can only help our next generation ..."
FA Youth Cup Final, 1st leg
Arsenal v Liverpool
Friday May 22
Kick Off: 8pm
Tickets: Priced �3 adults, �1 concessions On General Sale from arsenal.com or call 0844 2773625
FA Youth Cup Final, 2nd leg
Liverpool v Arsenal
Tuesday May 26
Kick Off: 7.45pm
BOTH GAMES LIVE ON SETANTA