It has come down to this. After two seasons of grafting in the second tier of U21 Premier League football, Arsenal’s youngsters have the chance to gain promotion by beating Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium tonight.
Villa’s first-team may be woeful, but they still boast one of the best youth set-ups in the country and will provide a considerable challenge to Arsenal this evening, when they are set to be backed by a large contingent of travelling supporters.
As far as Arsenal are concerned, Steve Gatting is likely to name a strong squad once again. Santi Cazorla was excellent in the semi-final against Blackburn Rovers last week and may receive another run-out, whilst he could be joined by Francis Coquelin, who is hugely familiar with youth football having played in many development fixtures for Arsenal earlier in his career. Calum Chambers could also feature.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide is poised to return to the fold, but Donyell Malen, Reiss Nelson and Marcus McGuane are all away at the U17 European Championships and midfielder Ismael Bennacer is doubtful.
Villa have already beaten Arsenal twice this season and will be hopeful of prevailing again. For Arsenal, though, this game is extremely important as it is vital for the young Gunners to be able to test themselves against the youth sides of major clubs, including Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Kick-off is at 7pm tonight and extra-time and penalties will be played if required.
C. Willock-Reine Adelaide-Gnabry
Subs: Huddart, M. Bola, Sheaf, Crowley, Hinds.