The FA Cup is associated with giantkillings, but meetings between top flight sides and lower league teams at youth level tend to be scarce.
Arsenal’s youngsters survived a considerable scare in the FA Youth Cup this week, however, when they were pitted against Royston Town, whose senior team operate in the Evo-Stik League Southern.
An Arsenal side containing Gedion Zelalem, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dan Crowley fell behind after just four minutes when Royston found the net through Joe Grossi.
Arsenal were without their first-choice central-defensive pairing of Stefan O’Connor and Julio Pleguezuelo, but the goal still came as a shock and Royston, who were backed by a vociferous set of travelling supporters at Meadow Park, sensed that they had a chance of winning the game.
Arsenal struggled to regain momentum immediately after conceding the goal, with Royston closing them down at every opportunity. The young Gunners eventually managed to work their way back into the game, however, courtesy of two goals from striker Stephy Mavididi before the break, and eventually prevailed 2-1.
The game served as a lesson to Arsenal, though, that they won’t have things all their own way in the Youth Cup this season.
In the previous round they edged through against Reading after their opponents missed an opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game.
The second-half performance against Royston was more befitting of an Arsenal side as they passed the ball around neatly and created chances with increasing regularity, helped by Crowley becoming more heavily involved in proceedings.
Krystian Bielik, the club’s only acquisition so far in this transfer window, watched from the stands against Royston and could feature in the latter rounds of this competition should Arsenal progress further.
Arsenal have been handed another home tie in the Fifth Round, although the visit of Crewe Alexandra, who are renowned for their impressive academy, shouldn’t be an easy task.
If they manage to navigate their way past that hurdle, however, then matters will start to become interesting, with a potential trip to the Etihad Stadium awaiting in the Quarter-Finals. The draw for the last eight was made yesterday and the winner of the Arsenal v Crewe tie will travel to face either Manchester City or Stoke City, providing an additional incentive for Frans De Kat’s side to succeed.
After the way that events unfolded on Wednesday night, however, they will be wary that even reaching that stage won’t be without its complications.