Arsenal U21s will kick-start their preparations for another season tonight when they take on Conference South side Sutton United in the first of four friendlies scheduled for July and August.
Coach Steve Gatting has a rather small pool of players to choose from for several reasons. Firstly owing to the large number of players released at the end of last season, but also due to first-team call-ups and ongoing injury concerns.
As well as the players going to Asia (Gedion Zelalem, Damian Martinez, Kristoffer Olsson, Chuks Aneke, Ignasi Miquel, Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom and Thomas Eisfeld), Gatting is also deprived of the services of Zak Ansah (anterior cruciate ligament), who is likely to be ruled out until at least December and left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill (knee), who has been ruled out for six to eight weeks, in addition to Benik Afobe, Jon Toral and Tarum Dawkins, who are still recovering from injuries they sustained last season. Furthermore, Wellington and Samuel Galindo, back from their latest loan spells abroad, are unlikely to feature.
As a consequence, several members of the U18 squad are likely to be involved at the Borough Sports Ground, including Austin Lipman, Jack Jebb and Alex Iwobi, whilst, in the absence of Ormonde-Ottewill, Nigerian defender Arinse Uade, who experienced several injury problems of his own last season, may be drafted in at left-back.
The most notable inclusions in the squad, however, are those of summer signings Dan Crowley and Jamaal Raage, who will make their debuts for the club at some point tonight despite having only commenced their scholarship deals eleven days ago. Crowley, signed from Aston Villa, is regarded as one of England’s brightest prospects for the future, whilst Raage will seek to impress following his move from Swedish football.
Goalkeeper Deyan Iliev will seek to make the most of his opportunity to shine whilst Martinez is in Asia, whilst the versatile Alfred Mugabo could be called upon to cover at right-back with Hector Bellerin on international duty with Spain U19s.
Sutton should provide a reasonable test for the young Gunners given that they can call upon several former Football League players, most notably defender Paul Telfer, who is now a player coach, but previously played in the top flight for Coventry City and Southampton. Others, including Jamie Stuart, Simon Downer, Tom Jordan and Marvin Williams have also previously experienced football at a far higher level than the one they are currently playing at.
The U21 Premier League fixtures for the new campaign are yet to be announced, but it is likely that, as the existing members of the second-string head out on loan, more members of the U18 squad, including several of the new first-year scholars, will be drafted into the set-up as the campaign progresses.
subs: Vickers, Jebb, Raage, Maitland-Niles, Siemann.