Arsenal’s youngsters rounded off 2012 in some style- Terry Burton’s side reached the knockout stage of the NextGen Series after dispatching of Athletic Bilbao, Newcastle United were swept aside in the FA Youth Cup, and the U18s rounded off a difficult first half of the season by annihilating Blackburn Rovers.
Following an extended Winter break, with the young Gunners having only returned to training last week, preparations are now being made for the quartet of competitions that Arsenal’s talented crop of starlets will face this year. The NextGen Series appears, on paper at least, to be the most exciting proposition, with the possibility arising of a glamour tie against one of Europe’s elite academies, including the likes of Barcelona and Inter Milan.
The draw for the next phase of that competition has not yet been made, with one final group stage fixture, between Liverpool and Inter, still to be completed, but Terry Burton’s U21 side are already aware of their opponents for the second half of the season, having qualified for the Elite Development group, where they will compete with Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Liverpool, Southampton, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion, with the fixture dates expected to be announced shortly. The group should provide some high-quality tests for Arsenal’s developing talents, with the only negative being that the majority of these fixtures are likely to be played behind-closed-doors.
The U18s, in contrast, will compete in a lesser division having struggled for form in the first half of the campaign. Their list of opponents- Blackburn Rovers, Norwich City, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Middlesbrough-, however, is still a difficult one, although coach Steve Gatting will look to bed in several of next season’s scholars, including the much-vaunted Gedion Zelalem, into the side.
Perhaps Arsenal’s best chance of silverware below first-team level this season, however, is in the FA Youth Cup. The emphatic victory over Newcastle in the previous round demonstrated Arsenal’s abundance of attacking potential, and with Serge Gnabry poised to return from injury shortly, hopes will be high of at least progressing past the Fourth Round stage for the first time since they last won the competition in 2009. Fulham will be the opponents at Underhill for the next round of the competition later this month, although an exact date for the fixture is yet to be confirmed by either club.
PLAYERS ELIGIBLE FOR EACH COMPETITION
Name U21 NextGen FAYC U18
Damian Martinez Yes
Martin Angha Yes Yes
Zak Ansah Yes Yes
Hector Bellerin Yes Yes Yes Yes
Samir Bihmoutine Yes Yes*
Daniel Boateng Yes
Reice Charles-Cook Yes Yes Yes*
Craig Eastmond Yes*
Kyle Ebecilio Yes Yes
Thomas Eisfeld Yes Yes
Serge Gnabry Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sead Hajrovic Yes Yes
Isaac Hayden Yes Yes Yes Yes
Conor Henderson Yes
Jernade Meade Yes
Ignasi Miquel Yes Yes*
Nigel Neita Yes Yes
Kristoffer Olsson Yes Yes Yes Yes
Josh Rees Yes Yes*
James Shea Yes
Jon Toral Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sanchez Watt Yes*
Jordan Wynter Yes Yes
Nico Yennaris Yes Yes*
Jack Jebb Yes Yes Yes Yes
Austin Lipman Yes Yes Yes Yes
Chuba Akpom Yes Yes Yes Yes
Deyan Iliev Yes Yes Yes Yes
Leander Siemann Yes Yes Yes Yes
Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill Yes Yes Yes Yes
* eligible as an over-age player.
The following scholars and schoolboys are also available for all four competitions: Zach Fagan, Anthony Jeffrey, Tarum Dawkins, Arinse Uade, Tom Dallison, Alex Iwobi, Alfred Mugabo, Josh Vickers, Glen Kamara, Gedion Zelalem, Jordan Brown, Ryan Huddart, Tafari Moore, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Elliot Wright.