Arsenal U21s made an impressive start to the season as they dispatched of Fulham with a 1-0 victory last week despite being shorn of several key players because of loan spells.
Matters could be about to get rather tougher for Steve Gatting’s side, however, with Gedion Zelalem, who scored the only goal of the game last week, reportedly set to leave the club on loan.
Coincidentally, at present it appears that a loan move to Fulham is the most likely option for Zelalem, with possible switches to Rangers, Birmingham City and Charlton Athletic having been cast into doubt.
Zelalem has the highest amount of U21 appearances out of the current squad and his departure would be keenly felt but, as is always the case, it would inevitably provide an opportunity for another youngster to make the breakthrough into the second-string.
It isn’t currently clear whether Zelalem will feature when the U21s take on Derby County at Meadow Park this evening, but if the United States youth international is ruled out, then Ben Sheaf, who was stationed on the right wing last week, could be deployed centrally alongside Glen Kamara.
Against Fulham Arsenal were without the creative trio of Kaylen Hinds, Chris Willock and Tyrell Robinson because of injury, and those players, when fit, will provide additional depth to the U21 squad, along with midfielder Ismael Bennacer, who isn’t currently eligible to represent the club competitively as he waits for his transfer to be formally approved by FIFA.
If Hinds, Willock and Robinson are still unavailable for tonight’s game, then Hale End product Aaron Eyoma, who isn’t yet guaranteed a professional contract with the club, may well be afforded a start on the right wing. Eyoma, along with Savvas Mourgos and Yassin Fortune, was named amongst the substitutes for the U21s against Fulham before featuring for the U18s against Norwich City the following morning, highlighting the current lack of depth in Arsenal’s second-string squad.
Gatting would surely be pleased to have some extra options to call upon at present, and he may well be rewarded in that regard soon, with David Ospina and Joel Campbell two senior players who are in need of game time. Calum Chambers and Mathieu Flamini also haven’t featured for the first-team this season.
The club’s decision to send so many players out on loan at this stage of the season- Zelalem’s departure would make it 12- will have a knock-on effect in terms of reducing the amount of experienced players available to the club at U21 level. That is the nature of youth football, though, with the cycle of change never ceasing.
Possible Arsenal U21 team v Derby:
Subs: Iliev, O’Connor, Mourgos, Fortune, Donovan.