Arsenal’s youngsters have the opportunity to conclude a positive pre-season by tasting silverware tomorrow when they take on PSV Eindhoven in the Final of the Durban U19 Football Tournament.
Steve Gatting’s side will, though, be fully aware of the sizeable task that awaits them given that they were defeated by PSV in the group stages following a bizarre own goal involving Stefan O’Connor and Hugo Keto.
Despite only just managing to navigate their way through the group stages, the young Gunners displayed terrific resilience to overcome Stuttgart on penalties in Wednesday’s Semi-Final, with goalkeeper Ryan Huddart assuming hero status by making two excellent stops in the shoot-out.
Huddart has enjoyed an excellent tournament so far, but it isn’t currently clear whether he will start in the Final, with Gatting having constantly changed his line-up throughout the competition. Back-up goalkeeper Hugo Keto has had some difficult moments in South Africa and Huddart is certainly the in-form option.
Indeed, if Arsenal have serious hopes of winning this tournament then surely it would be beneficial for them to field their strongest side. Gatting will be anxiously waiting for an update on the availability of summer arrival Yassin Fortune, with the striker having suffered an injury during the game against Stuttgart after previously putting the Gunners in front against the German side.
Arsenal haven’t been at their best defensively in this competition, but a back line of Tafari Moore, O’Connor, Julio Pleguezuelo and Marc Bola would inspire some confidence, whilst in front of them Gedion Zelalem and Ben Sheaf have been two of the Gunners’ most impressive players throughout the tournament.
There is much competition for places in the forward areas, even in the absence of Stephy Mavididi. Kaylen Hinds, Chris Willock and Tyrell Robinson are all capable of inflicting damage upon the opposition, whilst Joshua Da Silva could deputise for Fortune if the French striker can’t be called upon.
After all the problems that the Arsenal academy endured last season in terms of results, it would be hugely positive for the youngsters to enter the new campaign with some silverware in tow, even though this is only a pre-season tournament. Arsenal have coped admirably even in the absence of the likes of Dan Crowley and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who are currently out on loan, and the performance of the youngsters in this tournament should bode well for their upcoming involvement in the UEFA Youth League this season.
Arsenal face PSV at 4.30pm UK time tomorrow.