Arsenal U21s started the season in fine fashion and it almost appeared an inevitability that the club’s youngsters would be able to propel themselves back to the top tier of second string football.
The second half of the campaign has been rather frustrating, however, with results not having been helped by the loss of key players, such as Alex Iwobi, who has stepped up to the first-team squad.
With just four league fixtures remaining, this is crunch time for the young Gunners and their promotion prospects. Steve Gatting’s side host their Newcastle United counterparts tonight and will be boosted by the inclusion of some senior stars in Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, who will be making their latest comebacks from injury.
Gatting may rest some of the players that participated in the gruelling FA Youth Cup fixture with Manchester City on Monday night, but Arsenal should still field a strong side, with Serge Gnabry also expected to feature.
The top two teams in the second division are promoted to the top tier and at present Arsenal find themselves in third place, although they have played fewer games than all of the other teams in the division.
Newcastle were beaten 5-3 by Swansea City on Monday night and, given the players that Arsenal are able to call upon tonight, Gatting’s side will be confident of prevailing.
Those players that featured as substitutes against City- Marcus McGuane, Donyell Malen and Ben Sheaf- will all hope to be involved from the outset, while the players who weren’t eligible for that game will make up the bulk of the side that plays tonight, with Dan Crowley, Julio Pleguezuelo and Tafari Moore all expected to feature.
It is true that development takes precedence over results at youth level, but promotion to the top tier would certainly be hugely beneficial for these Arsenal players as it would enable them to test themselves against a higher calibre of opposition on a regular basis.