The chances of the Arsenal U21 side gaining promotion back to the top tier have been given a massive boost by the involvement of three senior players for tonight’s game at home to Stoke City at Emirates Stadium.
Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby, who are all in the final stages of their respective recoveries from lengthy injury lay-offs, are all set to play some part for Steve Gatting’s side, along with fellow first-team squad members Serge Gnabry, Krystian Bielik and Gedion Zelalem.
Competition rules state that clubs are permitted to field three players over the age of 21, meaning that club captain Arteta will be able to feature. The Spaniard, along with Wilshere and Diaby, was involved in the U21 friendly victory over Brentford last week.
The U21s have struggled for consistency this season and have gone two games without a win, but they will be confident of prevailing tonight, especially given that they beat Stoke 3-0 in the reverse fixture back in October.
It will be a big occasion for Bielik, who is set to make his first appearance at Emirates since joining the club in the January transfer window. Although primarily a defensive-midfielder, the 17-year-old could be deployed at centre-back tonight alongside Stefan O’Connor.
Deyan Iliev could start in goal, with Matt Macey currently on first-team duty following an injury to Wojciech Szczesny.
Isaac Hayden, Chiori Johnson, Kaylen Hinds, Julio Pleguezuelo and Tafari Moore are all likely to miss out through injury, but Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill is poised to return to the side, with Alex Iwobi, who has been in good form of late, set to start up front.
There are still seven games remaining this season for Arsenal after this fixture, but a win would be an important step in the right direction as they look to fulfil their aim of testing themselves against better opposition next term.
Oliver Shenton, who made his Premier League debut earlier this season, is Stoke’s player to watch, with the central-midfielder likely to see a lot of the ball if he plays tonight.
Subs: Huddart, M. Bola, Maitland-Niles, Zelalem, Mavididi.