Sheffield Wednesday’s Under-18s will be aiming to cause a major upset when they travel to Arsenal in the third round of the FA Youth Cup tomorrow night.
Given the huge gulf in resources between the two clubs, the odds are firmly stacked against the Owls progressing to the next phase of the competition.
The Gunners are currently second in the U18 Premier League South division and their youth set-up, which the North London club invest millions on each and every year, is regarded as one of the best in the country.
“It is a real David v Goliath game,” Wednesday’s U18s boss Ben Wilkinson told The Star. “No one in the world of youth football will expect us to go to Arsenal and get a result.
“They have players in their squad who were World Cup winners a couple of months ago and who played in the Europa League last week.
“The recruitment power of a club like Arsenal is huge.
“There are players in their youth team who are on wages that would look decent in a lot of first-teams.”
Although Arsenal will be strong favourites to win the tie, Wilkinson is backing his players to give a good account of themselves at Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park, kick-off 7pm.
Wilkinson said: “We are really looking forward to the game. It is a great opportunity to test ourselves against the best. We have seen Arsenal play and they are a top side. They are very strong.
“It’s a real big test but the boys need it.
“It is a good opportunity for them and for us to assess where the boys at.
“We will go there as underdogs which helps take the pressure off a little bit. It gives you a free go at it.
“It would be unbelievable if we were to get a result. The belief and confidence the group of players would gain from getting a win of that magnitude would be the most important thing.”
Wednesday’s youngsters reached the fifth round of the tournament last season, defeating Luton Town and Gillingham before suffering a heavy defeat at Chelsea.
“There are quite a few of the squad who experienced playing in the competition last year which will prove valuable,” said Wilkinson. “It will be a big occasion for them and it is about managing those nerves of playing in a different environment so that should help us.
“When you’re a youth team player, the FA Youth Cup is the pinnacle of your career at that point. It is important for the players and the staff.
“From our point of view, playing Arsenal gives our lads a different game to what they are used to. The teams that we play week in, week out are very much of the same standard, give or take a player here and there. When you come up against a team like Arsenal, you know at this level they are probably going to have more of the ball and you are going to have take the chances that come your way and that you are going to have to defend really, really well.”
Despite a promising start to the season, Wilkinson’s side are currently third-from-bottom in the U18 Professional Development League North standings. They were due to face Burnley last weekend but the match was postponed at the last minute.
Wilkinson said: “We had a great start to the season when we were playing some fantastic football and scoring a lot of goals.
“We then had a real disappointing spell for six or seven games where we conceded too many goals and lost a lot of confidence in the group which can happen with young players.
“The last four games have been much better. The last two games, in terms of the football we played, is probably the best we have played all season.
“We feel like we are getting back to where we should be. We feel there are some players within the group who have got the ability to go and play in our first-team in the future.”