Portsmouth's Ronan Curtis can't wait to meet boyhood heroes Arsenal in FA Cup fifth round tie
RONAN CURTIS couldn’t believe his luck when Portsmouth were paired with English Premier League giants, Arsenal in last Sunday’s fifth round FA Cup draw.
The in-form Pompey winger grew up supporting the Gunners despite living close to Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park Stadium in south London.
Having lived in Croydon until the age of 10, Curtis was a regular spectator alongside his mum and dad at Crystal Palace matches during his childhood, however, he had nailed his colours to the Arsenal mast from a very early age.
And the world’s oldest cup competition certainly hasn’t lost any of its sparkle as it’s thrown up a ‘dream’ tie for Curtis and his Pompey teammates who are relishing the prospect of facing the record 13 times champions.
”We grew up in Croydon and with my dad and mum, we all used to go to the Crystal Palace games,” explained the former Derry City star.
“Growing up, all the brothers and sisters, we all supported Arsenal because of the way they played, how they passed and moved the ball. So to have Arsenal coming to Fratton Park, it’s amazing,” he enthused.
“I was saying after the FA Cup game against Barnsley that I hoped we got my team, Arsenal, and I couldn’t believe it when they came out of the draw.
“It’s the team I grew up supporting as a young kid and it will be nice to see those players come to Fratton Park.”
Curtis was ‘heartbroken’ when he realised he had passed up on a chance to play against his heroes back in 2017 when Swedish minnows, Östersund were paired with Arsenal in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League, just four months after his proposed move from Derry City collapsed at the final hour.
And yet the magic of the FA Cup has ensured Curtis finally gets his chance to line out against the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, David Luiz et al.
“It will be a spectacular night,” predicted Curtis. “I grew up watching Arsenal and to be playing against them now, playing against the likes of Hector Bellerin, David Luiz and Xhaka, it’ll be a big, big test but we’ll see what happens over the 90 minutes.
“You want to play against the best teams in the world and on the biggest stages during your career as a footballer. Now we’ve got Arsenal in the last 16 of the FA Cup and we’re looking forward to putting a show on for our fans.
“It’s finally come around to me now, a couple of years later, obviously. It was a bit heartbreaking not making the move (to Östersund) at that time when I saw they got drawn against Arsenal too. I came back to Derry and worked hard until the end of my contract with Derry and thankfully Portsmouth came in. Luckily, now, we’ve got Arsenal in the draw so it will be good for all my family and all the supporters as well.”
And while Arteta’s rejuvenated Arsenal side will be expected to progress to the quarter-finals, Curtis warned they will be in for a hostile reception on the south coast.
“It will be a tough, tough game for them. The fans will be on top of them and our fans are amazing so hopefully we can get something out of the game.
“Arsenal are doing well at the minute. Arteta has come in and has done a good job so far but it won’t be easy coming down to us at Fratton Park with 20,000 there cheering us on the whole way.
“We won’t let them pass the ball around. We’ll be pressing them and doing our own thing as well and I’m really looking forward to it.
“Hopefully we can continue the run in the FA Cup. It won’t be easy against the Gunners but if we put it up to them we’ll give them what we can on the day and we’ll see how comes out best.”
Portsmouth have been in terrific form since the turn of the year having gone four games unbeaten, a run which has seen them move to within six points of league leaders, Rotherham United, with two games in hand.
Curtis has been instrumental in that fine form and took his goal scoring tally to an impressive 13 on Tuesday night with a fantastic free-kick in the 2-0 win away to Lincoln.
With Sunderland also rapidly climbing the table, tomorrow’s visit to Portsmouth is a crunch clash in terms of promotion and Curtis is relishing the ‘big name’ clashes.
”It was a great result on Tuesday night and we did really well. Coming into this season I wanted to better myself, score more goals and set up more and so it’s not a bad return.
“Now I’ve scored more than I did last season and it’s only the end of January, so I still have another three or four months to go.
“Hopefully I can get around 20 goals this season - that would be nice!
“We’re in and around the play-offs now with 44 points and the top two have 50 points. So if we can win our two games in hand then we’re right in there.
“We had a bit of a sticky part of the season but the boys have really showed their true colours to come back from that. We dug in deep and we’re right back up there and are unbeaten.
“You want to play in these tough games. They are the games you want to play against Sunderland and Ipswich. We want to show them what we can bring to the table.
“We’ve beat most of the top six this season so we’re really looking forward to the test in front of us now.”
Portsmouth boss, Kenny Jackett will be delighted when the January Transfer Window closes today given Curtis has been linked with a £3 million move to Championship club, Blackburn amongst others.
All the transfer speculation hasn’t been affecting the man at the centre of those stories as he once again pledged his allegiance to Pompey.
“I put it to one side really. I’m a Portsmouth player and I’ve still got until the end of the summer and then the club have another option and will decide if they want to keep me or give me away.
“I’m just focussed on my football and winning games. I’ll keep working hard on and off the pitch.
“Nothing is happening yet. I love the club to pieces, I’ve settled in well with my teammates and love the city.
“Hopefully I can get a new contract but in the meantime I’m putting it all to one side and when they’re ready they can come talk to me.”