Arsenal U21s were certainly made to work hard in reaching the Quarter-Finals of the inaugural U21 Premier League Cup, and, given that their opponents for tomorrow night’s fixture are London rivals Chelsea, another tense and tantalising occasion is likely to be in store.
The two sides produced an enthralling encounter at U19 level in the Semi-Finals of the NextGen Series last season, with Chelsea eventually prevailing in extra-time, and, with some of the players who featured in Lake Como are likely to be in action again tonight for both sides, we could witness another memorable affair, particularly as the tie has to be settled on the night.
Arsenal’s form in the U21 Premier League has suffered of late, with Steve Gatting’s side on the receiving end of disappointing defeats to Middlesbrough and Liverpool, whilst also losing the hugely promising Dan Crowley to injury.
The U21 Premier League Cup, however, provides something of a reprieve, and, having managed to edge past another London side last time out in Fulham, Gatting’s team will be confident of progression, although the fact that the first-team are in action against Southampton the following night means that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson, who featured in the last round, are unlikely to be available here.
As well as Crowley, Zak Ansah and Zach Fagan remain on the sidelines, but Gedion Zelalem could be available despite making his first-team debut on Friday. Arsenal are likely to be heavily reliant on Benik Afobe, who has demonstrated that his clinical nature in front of goal has remained unperturbed by his numerous injury setbacks, but first-year scholars Tafari Moore, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Stefan O’Connor are all away with England U17s.
Chelsea, meanwhile, will pose a considerable threat. They trounced Arsenal 3-0 at U18 level in November, with the much-vaunted Jeremie Boga scoring a hat-trick and Izzy Brown, a striker signed from West Bromwich Albion, hugely influential.
Possible Arsenal team:
subs: Iliev, Pleguezuelo, Kamara, Jebb, Iwobi.
CHELSEA PLAYER PROFILES *Information and pictures courtesy of Chelsea official website and thechels.info
Mitchell Beeney (Born 03.10.95)
A tall goalkeeper with considerable experience of youth-team football at various levels, Beeney possesses good reflexes and was involved in the dramatic encounter in Lake Como last season.
Fankaty Dabo (Born 11.10.95)
Now settled at right-back, the England U17 international has been with Chelsea since 2007 and is a powerful presence.
Andreas Christensen (Born 10.04.96)
A Denmark U21 international centre-back, Christensen made the Chelsea bench in the Premier League last season and has been in impressive form for the second-string so far this campaign.
Alex Davey (Born 24.11.94)
Capped by Scotland at U19 level, Davey is an imposing centre-back who has been a mainstay of Chelsea’s U21 side for the past two seasons.
Nathan Ake (Born 18.02.95)
One of Chelsea’s better-known prospects, Ake has six first-team appearances to his name for the Blues, three of which came in the Premier League, but he is yet to feature for the senior side under Jose Mourinho. A promising Dutch U21 international who can play as a centre-back or a defensive-midfielder.
Lewis Baker (Born 25.04.95)
Hugely impressive against Arsenal in the NextGen Series last season, Baker is a creative midfielder who has been capped by England up to U19 level. He recently made his senior debut as a late substitute in the FA Cup victory over Derby County.
Jeremie Boga (Born 03.01.97)
Despite having only recently turned 17, skilful midfielder Boga has already made a considerable impact for Chelsea at U21 level, scoring two goals in six appearances this season. A French U16 international.
John Swift (Born 23.06.95)
A talented midfielder who has been capped by England at U19 level, Swift has become something of a goal threat for Chelsea’s second-string this season.
Alex Kiwomya (Born 20.05.96)
The son of former Arsenal striker Chris, Alex, who can operate as a striker or on the wing, has featured prominently for Chelsea at various youth levels this season, particularly impressing in the UEFA Youth League.
Islam Feruz (Born 10.11.95)
Born in Somalia, but a Scotland U21 international, Feruz is a fast and skilful forward who joined Chelsea from Celtic in 2011. He has scored seven goals in 17 appearances at various youth levels this season.
Izzy Brown (Born 07.01.97)
An England U17 international striker of some promise, Brown featured in the Premier League for his former club West Bromwich Albion and has scored seven goals in ten U21 appearances for Chelsea so far this season.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Born 23.01.96)
A diligent midfielder who has progressed through the ranks at Chelsea’s academy, Loftus-Cheek was a key part of the side that reached the Final of the FA Youth Cup last season. An England U19 international.
Isak Ssewankambo (Born 27.02.96)
A Swedish U17 international who joined Chelsea in 2010, Ssewankambo can operate in defence or midfield, but has usually been used as a right-back this season.
Adam Nditi (Born 18.09.94)
Born in Tanzania, Nditi is a left-back who joined Chelsea in 2008. The youngster has struggled for regular game time at U21 level this season.
Dion Conroy (Born 11.12.95)
An imposing defender in the second year of his scholarship with Chelsea, Conroy previously spent time with Fulham as a schoolboy.
Bradley Collins (Born 18.02.97)
The primary back-up goalkeeper to Beeney in Chelsea’s U21 side, Collins made his debut for the second-string earlier this season having previously featured for the U18s.
* Tomorrow night’s game is a 7.05pm kick-off at Aldershot Town’s EBB Stadium.