It’s not as if Arsenal U18s haven’t already had enough change to contemplate this year with the promotion of long-serving coach Steve Bould to the first-team set-up, the brief reign of Pat Holland, the subsequent promotion of Steve Gatting and, the latest development, the appointment of Carl Larman as U18 coach after Gatting was moved up to the U21s last week.
Laraman himself, who suffered a 2-0 defeat in his first game in charge at home to Blackburn Rovers last week, is facing the prospect of making some considerably difficult decision very early on in his tenure, with the fixtures coming thick and fast for the U18s over the next few weeks.
It has been a mixed bag of results in the Development Group so far, with the defeat to Blackburn coming off the back of a stalemate with Norwich City and a slender victory over Newcastle United. On Saturday, Arsenal travel to face Manchester City, a side who beat them 5-2 the last time they met at this level. That will be followed by Monday’s FA Youth Cup Fifth Round encounter with Everton, which is sure to be an entertaining affair, before a re-arranged trip to face Middlesbrough at Warwick University and finally a home fixture with Aston Villa to round off February.
The prospect of four games in less than ten days would be a daunting one in any circumstances, but Laraman faces a further handicap in that several of the players he would usually call upon, especially for the Youth Cup fixture, are currently struggling with injury. Spanish midfielder Jon Toral, for instance, missed the victory over Fulham in the last round, and is currently rehabilitating in his homeland after having an operation recently. Anthony Jeffrey, Hector Bellerin and goalkeeper Josh Vickers are also on the treatment table at present, although it is expected that Jeffrey and Bellerin should be fit to face Everton.
These problems mean that Laraman is likely to field considerably weakened line-ups in the league fixtures, largely composed of schoolboys whom he has coached previously. Jordan Brown, Tafari Moore, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Ryan Huddart are now recognisable members of the U18 squad, whilst a new raft of schoolboys were blooded for the first time against Blackburn, with defenders Marc Bola and Stefan O’Connor receiving starts and George Dobson, Tyrell Robinson, Kaylen Hinds and Jordan Thorbourne all earning call-ups. Renny Smith, who was signed last week from Chelsea, will also provide cover in both midfield and defence. Further schoolboys could be deployed against City, with the entirety of the proposed Youth Cup squad set to be rested due to the fact that the Everton game takes place just two days later.