The first-team’s qualification for the Champions League means that Arsenal’s youngsters will once again compete in European competition this season. They have previously enjoyed lengthy runs in both the UEFA Youth League and that tournament’s predecessor the NextGen Series, but this year they will be hoping to go even further.
As with the senior side, the U19s will take on Borussia Dortmund, Anderlecht and Galatasaray both home and away in the group stages, which should present them with a variety of challenges. Dortmund are familiar opponents, with the two sides having faced eachother last season. Both matches ended in draws, with Chuba Akpom being sent-off in the home fixture.
Anderlecht’s academy is renowned, with the Belgian club having helped to produce talents such as Romelu Lukaku and Adnan Januzaj, whilst the trip to Galatasaray will provide Arsenal’s youngsters with what is sure to be a memorable experience.
One considerable problem facing Arsenal with regards to this competition, however, is that fact that, this year, the tournament is only open to players born in 1996 or later, which rules out the likes of Chuba Akpom, Hector Bellerin, Isaac Hayden, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Jack Jebb, Glen Kamara, Josh Vickers and Deyan Iliev.
Indeed, Alex Iwobi is the only third year who is eligible for this competition, with the rest of the squad set to be made up of first and second-year scholars. There is still some relative experience amongst the players who can be called upon, though, with Gedion Zelalem, Julio Pleguezuelo, Chris Willock and Iwobi having all been involved in the first-team squad in some capacity.
The tournament should also provide some much-needed playing time for the likes of Elliot Wright and Renny Smith, who are on the fringes of the U21 squad, whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dan Crowley will be seeking to continue the impressive form they have shown at that level.
The UEFA Youth League will also be an intriguing experience for the new first-years, with players such as Stephy Mavididi, Tyrell Robinson, George Dobson and Kaylen Hinds looking to continue to develop having already represented the U18s on numerous occasions.
The dates for the group stage fixtures should be finalised early next week, with Arsenal’s first assignment a trip to Dortmund.
Possible Arsenal team for UEFA Youth League
subs: Keto, Dobson, Hinds, Mavididi, Robinson, Sheaf, Da Graca.
Also eligible: Johnson, Bola, Chatzitheodoridis, Donovan, Mourgos.