Slowly, but surely, things are beginning to look better for Arsenal U21s, who secured four points from fixtures against Southampton and West Ham United last week, which, whilst not exactly propelling them up the Elite Round table, will have instilled a measure of confidence and belief in the players ahead of a difficult run of fixtures which commences with Manchester United’s visit to Underhill tonight.
These sides last met at this level just last month, drawing 2-2 in an engaging fixture, but tonight coach Steve Gatting will be shorn of several of his leading lights due to international commitments. Striker Chuba Akpom, who scored both of Arsenal’s goals in the return fixture, is out through an injury that also prevented him from linking up with England U19s this week, whilst Kristoffer Olsson is with Sweden and Martin Angha is with Switzerland.
Isaac Hayden, though, is available again after missing the past two fixtures through suspension, whilst there is a chance that Andrey Arshavin could receive a rare run-out, with the winger having not been a regular part of the first-team squad at late, whilst also being overlooked by Russia for their latest World Cup Qualifiers. Craig Eastmond returned to full training last week but it is not yet certain whether he will be fit enough to play a part in proceedings.
United, meanwhile, possess some promising youngsters of their own, but could also have some senior representation in the form of goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who has been usurped by David De Gea as first-choice goalkeeper for the first-team. The likes of Marnick Vermijl, Larnell Cole and Adnan Januzaj all posed considerable threats to the Gunners last time out and will likely do so again, although Arsenal’s defence has had a more robust feel in recent games, with the improving Elton Monteiro well aided by the likes of Ignasi Miquel and Sead Hajrovic.
At this stage, halfway through the Elite Round, it appears unlikely that Arsenal will finish in the top three places in the table which provide a gateway to the end of season play-offs, but Gatting will be pleased with the individual development of several players over the past few months and will be hoping for that to continue this evening.
As the season edges towards its conclusion, it is likely that several members of the U18 side will make the step up to the more senior age-group over the next couple of months, with Jack Jebb, Austin Lipman and Tarum Dawkins prime candidates to do so. Tonight, though, the Gunners’ side is likely to be composed of considerably more experienced players at this level, including Nico Yennaris, Thomas Eisfeld and Serge Gnabry.
subs: Vickers, Ebecilio, Wynter, Watt, Hajrovic.