Arsenal U19s have made a superb start to their UEFA Youth League campaign, with the side, overseen by Andries Jonker, having won their first two group stage fixtures, away to Dinamo Zagreb and at home to Olympiacos.
Next up is a double-header home and away against Bayern Munich, which, on paper at least, would appear to be a rather daunting task given the stature of the German club.
However, Bayern, in stark contrast to Arsenal, have lost both of their group stage fixtures so far and have failed to convince with any aspects of their performances, suggesting that the young Gunners may actually have a good chance of securing two further victories and effectively confirming their place in the knockout stages of the competition.
There is a caveat, though, and it is a considerable one. The FIFA U17 World Cup is taking place in Chile this month, and will deprive Arsenal of four of their most talented youngsters in this age group- Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock, Kaylen Hinds and Stephy Mavididi.
The major concern here is that all four of the aforementioned starlets are attacking players, meaning that Jonker will be forced into making considerable changes for the home game against Bayern.
Arsenal have already re-arranged an U21 game against Blackburn Rovers as they felt that they wouldn’t have enough players with sufficient experience to fulfil the fixture, but UEFA games have to be played on specified dates and, as such, the club have no choice but to play with what will, in effect, be a weakened side on October 20th.
How, then, could they line-up with this in mind?
Hugo Keto didn’t have the best of games against Olympiacos, but the Finland youth international has been generally impressive this season and appears to be the chosen goalkeeper for this competition. Ryan Huddart, who has featured for the U18s as an over-age player recently, will provide back-up.
Arsenal have an injury concern in this position over Tafari Moore, who hasn’t featured for England U19s this week because of a slight problem. If he is out then Aaron Eyoma could move to right-back, with Jordi Osei-Tutu, who signed professional terms recently, an alternative option.
Julio Pleguezuelo and Krystian Bielik have forged an effective partnership at the heart of the defence for both the U21s and the U19s, which should continue against Bayern. Stefan O’Connor will provide a useful back-up option.
Marc Bola has featured prominently for the U21s and the U19s this campaign, and should retain his place for this game, with Ilias Chatzitheodoridis on hand to provide cover.
Ben Sheaf and Savvas Mourgos occupied the pivot against Olympiacos, and the pair could be called upon again against Bayern. Sheaf has been particularly impressive this season, with his set-pieces causing havoc for opposing defences. However, with Willock and Hinds unavailable, Marcus Agyei-Tabi could start in a deeper position, with Mourgos pushed further forwards.
Thankfully Arsenal will still be able to call upon an experienced- at this level at least- attacker in Alex Iwobi, who has been on the bench for the first-team this season. Tyrell Robinson, who has impressed for the U18s, is likely to be in the squad.
This is where matters get a little complicated, with both Hinds and Willock unavailable. Ismael Bennacer, if fit, could be an option here, or alternatively Mourgos, as alluded to, could be pushed into a more advanced position. First-year Joshua DaSilva can also be used in this position, as can Vlad Dragomir.
Reiss Nelson missed the Olympiacos game as he was on international duty, but the highly regarded schoolboy should be back available to face Bayern. Reine-Adelaide, despite his clear talent, shouldn’t be too big a miss given that the Gunners have coped admirably without him in this competition so far this season.
The absence of Mavididi should provide an opportunity for a first-year scholar to lead the line, with Donyell Malen the prime candidate for inclusion. The Dutchman scored for the U18s yesterday and featured as a substitute against Olympiacos. Yassin Fortune, who can also be used on the left flank, is another option.
Subs: Huddart, O’Connor, Chatzitheodoridis, Bennacer, Dragomir, DaSilva, Robinson.
Other eligible players: Perrin, Fortune, Da Graca, T. Bola, Osei-Tutu, Pileas, Howard, Gilmour, Tella, Benson, Smith-Rowe, Nketiah.
Not available- Injured: Johnson, Moore.
International duty: Reine-Adelaide, C. Willock, Hinds, Mavididi