The 2016/17 campaign is set to be incredibly exciting for Arsenal’s starlets, with the club’s young prospects, at long last, receiving the opportunity to test themselves against the country’s top sides at U21 level.
Games against Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are all on the agenda this season, and coach Steve Gatting is likely to be working with a very young squad once again, with many of the older players either being sent out on loan or edging closer to the first-team squad.
Here’s a look at the players in Arsenal’s U21 squad as things stand, classified by age group.
Born 1992-93- Wellington*
Born 1994-95- Macey*, Hayden, Toral, Iliev
Born 1995-96- Kamara
Born 1996-97- Crowley, O’Connor, Moore, Pleguezuelo, Huddart, Maitland-Niles, Zelalem
Born 1997-98- Bennacer, Bielik, Da Graca, Hinds, Keto, Mavididi, Reine-Adelaide, Robinson, Johnson, Sheaf, C. Willock, M. Bola, Eyoma, Mourgos
Born 1998-99- McGuane, T. Bola, Dragomir, Fortune, Osei-Tutu, Malen, DaSilva, Pileas, Nketiah
Born 1999-00- Nelson
*= senior player by Premier League + Champions League rules.
Players in green are on loan
There are several first-team players- Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers, Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry and Alex Iwobi- who are still classed as U21 players, but they are unlikely to be frequently involved with the second-string.
The players in the first four age groups (with the exception of goalkeepers) are unlikely to be heavily involved at U21 level this season as they will either be attempting to break into the first-team squad or heading out on loan.
In the case of Wellington, a concrete decision either way is likely to be made on the winger’s future, especially when it is taken into consideration that he will turn 24 midway through the campaign.
The likes of Dan Crowley, Stefan O’Connor, Tafari Moore,Julio Pleguezuelo, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Gedion Zelalem are all candidates for loan spells, although some of them may still feature for the U21s at some point, perhaps in the early stages of the campaign.
That means the bulk of the U21 squad is set to be comprised of players born in 1997 or later. The likes of Chris Willock, Kaylen Hinds, Stephy Mavididi and Marc Bola possess much experience of U21 football, while some of the younger players, like Marcus McGuane, Donyell Malen and Josh DaSilva were eased into the side last season.
Reiss Nelson, who will sign scholarship terms this summer, has already featured at U21 level, and there is a possibility that he will be joined by some of his fellow new first-years in the second-string at some point this season, with Emile Smith-Rowe a candidate to make the breakthrough.
With the above information in mind, here’s how Arsenal’s U21 side could look when all loan deals are arranged.
Johnson-Bielik-Da Graca-M. Bola
Osei Tutu-T. Bola-Pileas-Robinson