Things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Arsenal at youth level this season, with three managerial changes, heavy defeats such as the 6-1 thrashing by Aston Villa last weekend and several players failing, for whatever reasons, to live up to expectations.
Since the turn of the year, and the commencement of Development Group 2, Arsenal U18s have registered just one victory, at home to Newcastle United, and that came courtesy of a strike from Serge Gnabry, a player who has featured for the first-team in the Premier League and Champions League this season. The latest coach, Carl Laraman, has yet to taste success, but he will be hopeful of doing so against Norwich City at London Colney on Saturday morning, given that the Gunners ran out 3-0 winners in this fixture in September. Since then, they have faced the Canaries twice away, losing 4-0 on the first occasion and drawing 0-0 early last month. Laraman will certainly be hoping that his players display far greater concentration and willingness than they did against Villa last weekend, when goalkeeper Deyan Iliev and centre-back Zach Fagan were particularly culpable as Arsenal suffered a heavy defeat.
One positive for Laraman is that schoolboy Jordan Brown is likely to be available again for the first time in nearly a month, although Alfred Mugabo could be out for a prolonged period after undergoing a scan on his knee. Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill faces a late fitness test, but Anthony Jeffrey, Tom Dallison, Jon Toral and Arinse Uade are all expected to miss out. The likes of Jack Jebb and Austin Lipman will be seeking to impress and play their way into the NextGen Series side that will travel to Italy to face Inter Milan on Wednesday in the Last 16 of that competition.
The U21s are also in action this weekend, facing West Bromwich Albion away on Sunday afternoon. West Brom have beaten Arsenal twice already at this level this season, including on Jack Wilshere’s return to action at the Hawthorns in October, and will be favourites against Steve Gatting’s side, who find themselves rock bottom of the Elite Group having taken just two points from their first four games. There were some promising signs during last week’s 4-2 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, especially Chuba Akpom’s growing calmness in front of goal, but several of Tottenham’s goals were cheaply conceded, which is something Gatting will be looking to address this weekend. He may have to do it, however, without the leadership qualities of Isaac Hayden, who, along with Mugabo, went for a scan today. Thomas Eisfeld could be back in contention after missing out last week, although Nico Yennaris, Sanchez Watt, Kyle Ebecilio and Jernade Meade remain out. Craig Eastmond is back in light training, but is not yet match fit having recovered from the injury he suffered whilst on loan at Colchester United.
One noticeable element of this campaign at second-string, meanwhile, has been the sporadic game time received by the club’s internally-produced 2010 scholars. Nigel Neita (8 appearances), Samir Bihmoutine (6 appearances) and Josh Rees (5 appearances) have not been used anywhere near as frequently as they would have wished, with players from younger age-groups, particularly foreign talents such as Serge Gnabry and Kristoffer Olsson being preferred. Indeed, Rees has just been loaned out to Brentford’s Development Group to receive much-needed game-time.
U18 v Norwich City- 11 am- Saturday- London Colney
Possible team: Iliev; Smith, Fagan, O’Connor, Moore; Kamara, Jebb; Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Dawkins; Lipman. Subs: Huddart, Brown, Dobson, Hinds.
U21 v West Brom- 2pm- Sunday
Possible team: Fabianski; Bellerin, Monteiro, Miquel, Angha; Olsson, Wynter; Gnabry, Eisfeld, Henderson; Akpom. Subs: Shea, Hajrovic, Bihmoutine, Neita, Ansah.