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Arsenal v Crystal Palace

FA Youth Cup third round
Barnet FC
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Kick-off: 7.00pm

By Chris Harris

As you approach the main entrance to Arsenal's training ground you pass an honours board inscribed with the Club's major successes.

Arsenal's 13 League titles, nine FA Cup wins and two European trophies take pride of place, but also listed among those first-team triumphs are six FA Youth Cup victories. It shows how highly the competition is regarded at Highbury.

"The Youth Cup is prestigious and it's great for the Club if we win it," says Steve Bould. "It is a tradition at the Club and it's something that all of us from the top down want to win."

Bould, who played a significant role in some of the aforementioned honours, is now an Academy coach at Arsenal. He will take charge of the Under-18s when they kick off this season's Youth Cup campaign against Crystal Palace on Thursday.

"It's completely different to the Academy League," says Bould. "In the League we look to develop players, but this is a competition where winning is very important to us.

"It was a bit of a disappointment last year because we went out in the fourth round against Southampton. Hopefully we can perform better on Thursday night."

Bould regularly fields schoolboys in Academy League games on Saturday mornings. It is crucial to their development and embraces the Club policy of giving young players experience at a higher level, but Bould will pick his strongest possible side for Thursday night.

"Our league position would look different if we had our strongest side out each week, but we will have a lot of first-team experience in there against Palace with the likes of Arturo Lupoli and Ryan Smith.

"Lupoli does make a difference when he plays. When he's in the team and performing well he's a great goalscorer. That's been evident at every level he's played at and when you see him in training. His game is based on running in behind and finishing well."

Lupoli's finishing has brought him 16 goals in all competitions this season at virtually a goal a game. That record comprises first-team, reserves and Academy football; very impressive for a 17-year-old still acclimatising to life in a new country.

With the Italian teenager leading the line, Arsenal should pose a goal threat at Underhill. Equally importantly for Bould has been the improvement at the other end of the pitch.

"We have definitely tightened up at the back," he said. "We've kept clean sheets in four of our last five matches and that was something we were struggling to do for quite a while. But that's normal for young players, once they get used to professional life you tend to see that improvement."

Arsenal will be without Johan Djourou (knee) and Matthew Hislop (hamstring) against Palace. Nonetheless, Bould believes that the experience gained in reserve-team football, not to mention the Carling Cup, will hold the young Gunners in good stead.

"Many of them have learned massively from reserve-team football," he said. "They have played at first-team grounds like The Valley and Selhurst Park and play reserve-team football at a younger age now so they have that little bit of experience.

"And of course some of them have played in front of 67,000 at Old Trafford in the Carling Cup. That should make a difference in games like this."

For all the medals he won during a glittering playing career at Highbury, Bould never got beyond the fifth round of the Youth Cup during his time at Stoke City.

You sense that a new Youth Cup engraving on the training ground honours board would mean as much to him as the other trophies he has helped bring to Highbury down the years.


let's hope Stevie Bould can lead the kiddies to glory, i hope so, also i think Michael Owen and Jeremie Aliadiere's youth cup goalscoring record could be in danger if we go far, Lupoli will be licking his lips and polishing his claws at the prospect of playing against a lot of 17 year old defenders. :D

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