Boss Jon Brady believes his Cobblers Under-18s are going to have to beat ‘one of the best youth teams in the world’ if they are keep alive their FA Youth Cup dream on Wednesday night.
Town travel to Meadow Park, the home of National League side Boreham Wood, to take on the might of Premier League Arsenal, with the Gunners going all the way to the final last season before losing out to Chelsea.
Arsenal’s academy has an excellent reputation, and the third round clash with the Cobblers is their first game in the competition this season.
The Cobblers have beaten Kings Lynn and Swindon Town to get this far, and Brady is excited at the challenge facing him and his players, although he knows it could be a very testing one.
“We couldn’t have done any more in terms of our preparation and we are all excited and ready to go,” said the Under-18s boss, who has guided his team to an excellent season so far, losing just one game in all competitions.
“The players are a good group and they don’t give anything away. Their temperament is quite even, and they are never too high, never too low.
We’ve earned this opportunity and the right to play them on the night, and we are really looking forward to the challengeCobblers Under-18s boss Jon Brady
“They have to be confident with what they have done so far this season, and yes we have to step it up a few gears because we are playing a Premier League side.
“In my opinion Arsenal probably have one of the best youth teams in Europe, if not the world, because you are talking about Arsenal, so let’s put that in perspective.
“But we’ve earned this opportunity and the right to play them on the night, and we are really looking forward to the challenge.”
And the former Brackley Town boss added: “The boys have got nothing to fear.
“Arsenal are a good side, they have done well so far in their league, and we know they have prepped us and watched us pretty closely, and their manager has been up.
“It’s like a normal first team game for these boys, and they just have to show what they can do on the night.
“If all of our players are at their extreme best, and maybe 11 of their players have an off night, then we might have a chance!”
The Youth Cup date will not be the first time the Cobblers youngsters have come up against a Premier League academy side this season, as they also travelled to Melwood to take on Liverpool in a friendly earlier in the season.
And Brady believes that experience will stand his players in good stead, saying: “We did it earlier on in the season when we played Liverpool, and in the first half we gave them a really good test, so much so that their academy director said we were one of the best sides they have played early on.
“But we have to make that consistent from the first whistle to the final whistle, and the pace the Premier League boys play at is different, but on a one-off evening, on a one-off night you just never know.
“In the FA Cup there is always a bit of magic, and we hope there’s a little bit of dust sprinkled our way.”
Admission to the match at Boreham Wood is free for all supporters, so any Town fans wanting to watch the Cobblers youngsters can go along, and Brady admits he wouldn’t be surprised to see a few Town fans in the stands.
“You see with the away support that our football club gets, that it is incredible,” said the Australian.
“These boys have done it themselves and galvanised the support through their results and performances.
“Here (at Moulton College) on a Saturday morning we can have a crowd of up to 200, whereas normally you see one man and a dog around here.
“It’s brilliant that the fans are popping up here on a Saturday morning to watch us, and the gaffer has been great to let us train on the first team pitches, and you can’t ask for better than that.
“The support from the first team has been brilliant as well.”
The Cobblers team will be skippered against Arsenal by Jay Williams, who has been a regular feature in first team match day squads this season, while Morgan Roberts and Camron McWilliams, who have both played for the first team in recent weeks, will feature, along with the likes of Jack Daldy, Scott Pollock and Michael Harding.
The Town youngsters have been in impressive form in the EFL Youth Alliance, and are on the brink of clinching the southern section title.
Arsenal for their part go into Wednesday’s game on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Everton in the Under-18 Premier League Cup.
That was a rare loss for the north Londoners though, who have won 10 out of 14 matches played this season, and currently sit in second place in the U18 Premier League South, two points behind rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
They are averaging more than three goals a game scored, but have also shipped in 22 in the league this season.