Arsenal U18 coach Ken Gillard hails his young guns saying: ‘Bukayo Saka’s biggest attribute is his great attitude and willingness to work hard’
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Gunners U18 boss Ken Gillard has been speaking exclusively to Islington Gazette Arsenal reporter Layth Yousif. Read on for what he told him about Bukayo Saka, his talented charges and what it felt like to beat Spurs in the FA Youth Cup.
Gillard’s Arsenal U18s trounced Spurs U18s 5-2 after extra time on Thursday, on a dramatic evening at Meadow Park with Bukayo Saka shining again as the club’s young guns showed character to win North London derby.
Three goals in extra time from Xavier Amaechi, Fol Balogun and Unai Emery’s first-team starlet Saka – who grabbed a brace on the night – saw Gillard’s spirited side progress to the fifth round of the country’s premier youth tournament.
Gillard was quick to hail the talented Saka and his promising teammates.
Speaking exclusively to the Islington Gazette he said: “It’s the temperament of Saka and Amaechi – which all the boys have shown – which was impressive again Spurs. “They’re grounded individuals whether they’re playing U18 or U23 or hopefully more first team games in the case of Bukayo.
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“He [Saka] has had a taste of it and he plays with a smile on his face. All the boys love playing football and so does Bukayo.
“The character is there and the hard work is there.
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“He’s not bad is he? He’s got a chance hasn’t he? His biggest attribute is his great attitude and willingness to work hard every single day. You can ask him to play anywhere and he’ll do it for you. He’s a fantastic kid but it’s not just about Bukayo. All the team did well. Every single one of them.”
Prior to that dramatic finale in extra time, a hard-fought 2-2 draw after 90 minutes absorbing action couldn’t seprate these two rivals from the opposite ends of the Seven Sisters Road.
Spurs went ahead through after Troy Parrott squared for captain Armando Shashoula to slot home from close range on eight minutes.
Gillard’s Gunners equalised five minutes later after the talented Ben Cottrell capitalised on a mistake from Harvey White.
The young Lillywhites went ahead again on 34 minutes, following Dennis Curkin’s cross from the left being fed to J’Neil Bennett via the perceptive Paris Maghoma to make the score 2-1 going into the interval.
Gillard earned his stripes at half time by making slight tactical and technical adjustments, primarily down the left flank in a bid to tighten up the Gunners.
The input worked as Gillard explained: “We made some wrong decisions and wrong choices in the first half but in the second we stepped on them a little bit and made life difficult for them.
“I just tweaked a few things a the break down the left hand side. The lads executed it perfectly. They showed bravery. We were better with the ball,
“So if you’re winning the ball back and then you’re better with the ball then you’re going to be much better overall. All in all it was a great performance and we could have had a couple more at the end.
“The fitness levels of the boys was just fantastic. Amaechi and Saka have played Monday against Manchester City U23s and they’ve been strong against Spurs.
“It shows just what good work has been done within this club and how much hard work has been done.
“I’m really proud of the boys.”
A fired-up Arsenal came out in the second half determined to level once again, and did so through a coolly taken Saka spot-kick six minutes after the break.
The leveller followed Xavier Amaechi being fouled in a crowded box by keeper Josh Oluwayemi, as the 17-year-old prodigy Saka found the net as the ball flew low in off the keepers’ right-hand post as the young guns made it through to round five in one of the games of the season at any level at Arsenal.
The experienced Gillard added: “I can’t stress enough how proud I am of the lads. There were a lot of big performances from all the team. They’ve all had an influence and performed well.
“It’s a joy to coach these lads. It’s the best job in the world.
“It’s not a bad feeling to win a North London derby is it?”
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29