NextGen Series- Last 16
Inter Milan v Arsenal
Wednesday March 6th
As they waited in the Heathrow departure lounge in the early hours of this morning, Arsenal’s NextGen Series side could have been forgiven for feeling a sense of trepidation at the prospect of a showdown with the tournament’s reigning champions.
Fear, however, is not in the remit of this group of youngsters. They have already been dealt their fair share of hardship this season, having gone four games in this competition without scoring a goal in the group stages prior to salvaging matters with an impressive 4-2 victory over Athletic Bilbao at Underhill, whilst many of the players expected to line up against Inter Milan tomorrow were also part of the FA Youth Cup squad which suffered an early exit in that competition at the hands of Everton recently.
This team has shown that it is capable of great things- as the comfortable 3-0 demolition of Marseille in the opening group stage fixture back in late August testifies, but they have rather struggled on their travels, drawing with Bilbao and losing to both Marseille and Olympiacos. Inter will certainly not make things easy for Steve Gatting’s side, having finished top on goal difference of a difficult group containing Rosenborg, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. Left-back Ibrahima M’Baye has already featured for their senior side, whilst Francesco Forte will provide a considerable threat to Arsenal’s back line.
As far as Arsenal are concerned, Kyle Ebecilio and Jon Toral have been ruled out through injury, whilst Thomas Eisfeld is also not expected to feature having been sidelined in recent weeks. Alfred Mugabo faces a late fitness test, but Isaac Hayden should be available again and the England youth international’s leadership qualities could prove vital if the Gunners are to stand a chance of progressing to the Quarter-Finals, where a home tie against CSKA Moscow awaits the winners. Goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook, meanwhile, has returned to Arsenal following his short loan spell at Chelmsford, but is expected to miss this tie as a consequence of an injury sustained during his time away.
Arsenal will no doubt be heavily reliant, especially in the expected absence of Eisfeld, on the attacking qualities of Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom, who have both been touted by Arsene Wenger as potential first-team squad members of the future. Hector Bellerin and Kristoffer Olsson will provide further flair, whilst Zak Ansah has also looked sharp in recent weeks as he continues his rehabilitation from injury.
Tomorrow’s game kicks off at 2pm UK time and will take place at the Centro Sportivo Facchetti.
Possible Arsenal team:
subs: Vickers, Mugabo, Lipman, Jebb, Ormonde-Ottewill, Fagan, Hayden.