From glory in Milan to the familiar rough-and-tumble of Underhill, you could be forgiven for thinking that a return to Barnet for tonight’s U21 Elite Group clash with Southampton would represent a coming back down to Earth experience for the Arsenal youngsters involved in last week’s dramatic victory in the NextGen Series.
For Nico Yennaris, Chuba Akpom and others, however, Underhill, despite its slope and difficult conditions, is likely to feel more like home then ever after they had to contend with near-waterlogged surroundings in prevailing to the next stage in European competition. At U21 level, though, particularly since the turn of the year, Steve Gatting’s side have struggled for points, having not tasted success at that level for nearly four months, leaving them rock bottom of the Elite Group having accumulated just three points from five games thus far.
Gatting will be hoping for a change against Southampton tonight, although, with a trip to Upton Park to take on West Ham United to come on Friday, he may rotate his side a little. The versatile Isaac Hayden will miss both fixtures after accumulating five yellow cards, whilst Craig Eastmond, Jernade Meade, Kyle Ebecilio, Damian Martinez, Sanchez Watt, Reice Charles-Cook and Thomas Eisfeld are again set to miss out through injury.
Arsenal showed terrific character to salvage a draw away to West Bromwich Albion last time out, and could have returned from the Hawthorns with all three points had Hector Bellerin found the net late on, and the Spaniard, who didn’t start against West Brom because of its proximity with the Inter Milan fixture, is likely to be restored to the starting line-up against Southampton, along with Serge Gnabry and Kristoffer Olsson. Lukasz Fabianski could continue in goal, whilst there remains the possibility that Andrey Arshavin and Sebastien Squillaci, who have been shoehorned from the first-team squad with their contracts running out in the summer, could feature in some games at this level before the end of the campaign.
Southampton, meanwhile, currently sit fourth in the table, albeit having played two more games than the Gunners. They are likely to call upon several members of their first-team squad, including defender Vegard Forren, who joined in January, as well as goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga and England U19 midfielder James Ward-Prowse. They drew 1-1 with Liverpool last time out, with Forren scoring against the side he so nearly joined, having previously dispatched of both West Ham and West Brom in consecutive fixtures.
With six players out on loan and a further seven currently injured, Gatting has a rather small pool of players to pick from at present, but he will be hoping that the victory over Inter, which several members of his squad were involved in, could provide them with a boost ahead of tonight’s game.
subs: Shea, Hajrovic, Wynter, Neita, Monteiro. subs: Johns, Curtis, Turnbull, McQueen, Ariyibi.