The young Hammers go into the game off the back of a strong display in the fourth round against Norwich City last month, when goals from Ademipo Odubeko (two), Jayden Fevrier, Jamal Baptiste and Kai Corbett made for an impressive 5-0 win at Carrow Road.
Managed by lead coach Kevin Keen, the victory saw the Irons’ youth team reach the fifth round of the Youth Cup for the first time in nine seasons.
On that occasion, in 2011/12, only an unfortunate loss to Chelsea on penalty kicks prevented West Ham’s U18s from reaching their first quarter-final since the 2004/05 season.
Standing in the Academy of Football’s way of reaching that landmark this year, however, are a talented Arsenal U18s outfit, managed by Ken Gillard and currently placed seventh in the U18 Premier League South table.
Following the Hammers’ 5-0 win over Norwich last month, Keen expressed his pride at the maturity and composure with which his young charges approached their fourth-round tie.
Now, with the fifth-round match fast approaching, assistant coach Mark Phillips hopes that the youth team will go into Friday’s fixture at Rush Green Stadium with a similar mentality.
“Without a doubt, that’s the goal,” Phillips confirmed.
“The Youth Cup, whether it’s the third round or fourth round, at whatever stage it is, is such a prestigious competition. There’s so much emphasis on academies to do well in the Youth Cup, it can sometimes just be a crazy 90 minutes of energy and excitement for teams.
“We said to the boys that the team who played with their heads against Norwich would win, so it was important just to be calm and play their football, and that’s what we did.
“Hopefully we can replicate that against Arsenal.”
Both teams have won their respective home league games against the other this season, with West Ham defeating Arsenal 3-2 at Little Heath back in October, thanks to goals from Fevrier, Archie Woods and Corbett.
Arsenal have a great U18s team in the Youth Cup and we’ve got a good one as well, so it’s about who turns up and does their work on the night
Last month, an evenly-fought encounter tipped in the Gunners’ favour when an injury-time strike from Khayon Edwards granted Arsenal a 1-0 victory.
Phillips is therefore under no illusions about the strength of the opposition his team will face on Friday – nor, excitingly, the quality of match which surely lies in store.
“I think it’s a genuinely exciting game,” he said.
“Arsenal have a great U18s team in the Youth Cup and we’ve got a good one as well, so it’s about who turns up and does their work on the night.
“It’s hard to say who should be considered favourites – but hopefully it’ll be us who turns up and plays well.”
The winners of Friday’s tie will face a trip to either Leicester City’s King Power Stadium or Liverpool’s Anfield in the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals.
West Ham have won the prestigious FA Youth Cup on three occasions previously – 1963, 1981 and 1999 – while also finishing as runners-up in four further seasons. Their last medals from the competition came courtesy of a resounding 9-0 victory over Coventry across a two-legged final in 1999.
Manchester City are this season’s defending champions.
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