Following Wednesday night’s last-gasp victory over Manchester United at Underhill that propelled Arsenal up to 4th place in the U21 Premier League Elite Group, attention was immediately switched to the next fixture involving the club’s youngsters, with Monday’s NextGen Series Quarter-Final clash with CSKA Moscow already generating a considerable level of anticipation.
The excitement factor was cranked up a further notch yesterday afternoon when the Semi-Final draw for the competition was made, pitching the winners of Monday’s bout with a potentially mouthwatering affair against Chelsea in Lake Como, Italy, later this month.
Italy has already proven a happy hunting ground for the young Gunners in this competition so far this season, with Nico Yennaris firing home an emphatic strike to dispatch of the holders Inter Milan int he last round, but, before another European excursion is booked, the task in hand must be dealt with first, and CSKA Moscow, having garnered a reputation for free-flowing football during the group stages of this tournament, will certainly be no pushovers at Emirates Stadium.
The opportunity to play in front of a larger crowd will also be appealing to Arsenal’s youngsters, indeed every time a reserve or youth side representing the club from U18 level upwards has featured at the new ground they have won, and a large attendance is anticipated again on Monday. Arsenal will be hopeful that Chuba Akpom, who had to pull out of the England U19 squad through injury, will be fit, whilst Kristoffer Olsson is expected back from international duty, as is Serge Gnabry, with the duo having missed the aforementioned victory over United. Jon Toral and Reice Charles-Cook, however, are likely to miss the majority of the remainder of the season due to injury.
Arsenal will certainly be relying on the comparative experience of Yennaris to see them through against the Russian side, whilst the dynamic runs of full-backs Hector Bellerin and Martin Angha will also forge a huge part of the Gunners’ game-plan. Elton Monteiro and Sead Hajrovic should rekindle their partnership at centre-back which was so impressive against Inter, but it remains to be seen whether Thomas Eisfeld will feature as an over-age player, perhaps at the expense of Zak Ansah.
Aston Villa face Sporting Lisbon in the other Semi-Final, with both last four ties scheduled for a week today, prior to the Final three days later, which added to their U18 league commitments, could create a rather hectic schedule for Arsenal’s youngsters. Firstly, though, they will be focused purely on dispatching of CSKA Moscow, a side who topped a group containing Ajax and Chelsea.