In a somewhat unusual turn of events, both Arsenal U21s and U18s will be in action at the same time on Saturday morning, as they take on Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa respectively in games that will kick off simultaneously.
Given the nature of this week’s FA Youth Cup exit at the hands of Everton, a glut of fixtures, which sees the two sides play 17 fixtures overall over the next two months, is probably most welcome for Steve Gatting and the rest of the coaching set-up. The fixture against Tottenham, dubbed the “mini North London derby” will have additional spice attached to it given that it will be the first time that the two sides have met at second-string level for almost four years, whilst an U18 side likely to contain many members of the Youth Cup squad will be looking to find some consistency against Villa, with young sides having suffered disappointing defeats in the past two league fixtures at that level.
The selection choices for the two sides will also provide an indication of which members of the U18 set-up are the most highly regarded at this moment in time. The likes of Hector Bellerin, Isaac Hayden, Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom and Kristoffer Olsson, are, for instance, likely to be involved with the more senior age group on Saturday, and will be supplemented by players of relative experience in that level in Ignasi Miquel, Nico Yennaris and Conor Henderson. Kyle Ebecilio, Sanchez Watt, Jernade Meade and Craig Eastmond remain injured, but the U21s are still searching for their first victory in the Elite Group having drawn two and lost one of their fixtures so far. Tottenham, meanwhile, have won their last three games, defeating West Ham, Liverpool and Manchester United, and will present formidable opposition for the young Gunners at their new Enfield training facility.
The U18 side that takes on Villa, coincidentally on the same day that the first-team face the same opponents, should contain some more familiar names than the sides that lost to Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers in the past two games. Jon Toral, Tom Dallison, Arinse Uade, Jordan Brown and goalkeeper Josh Vickers are all still injured, but the likes of Jack Jebb, Anthony Jeffrey, Austin Lipman, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and Alfred Mugabo, who all featured in some capacity against Everton on Monday, are in line to play at London Colney. Arsenal, who are likely to be coached again by Carl Laraman, have taken four points from as many games in the aptly-named Development Group, but will be hopeful of success against a Villa side whom they haven’t yet faced this season.
Arsenal U21s- (v Tottenham Hotspur U21, (a), Enfield training centre, Saturday, 11 am.
subs: Shea, Wynter, Hajrovic, Ansah, Hayden.
Arsenal U18s- (v Aston Villa (h), London Colney, Saturday, 11 am.
subs: Huddart, Dawkins, Maitland-Niles, Smith, Hinds.