It has been quite a busy week for Arsenal’s youngsters, particularly those involved in the club’s tour of Asia as, no sooner had six of the youngsters who travelled to the Far East arrived back in England, they were preparing to take on Dartford in a second-string friendly.
The Dartford fixture did not exactly go to plan, with the Gunners suffering a 2-1 defeat to the non-league outfit at Prince’s Park following a couple of defensive mishaps, but it did at least allow the likes of Nico Yennaris to play 90 minutes for the first time this pre-season, whilst giving coach Terry Burton a better look at some of the players who will be at his disposal during the forthcoming campaign.
It was a particularly memorable week for Yennaris, as he had earlier agreed an extension to his current contract with the club, whilst promising young German winger Serge Gnabry turned professional for the first time. Gnabry was lively against Dartford, as he was in the previous friendly, a fairly nondescript goalless draw with Stevenage, and looks set to be a key part of Burton’s plans this season, despite still being eligible to feature for the under-18s.
The proposed shake-up of the Reserve and under-18 leagues was also confirmed this week, with both competitions to adopt Champions League knockout-style formats, with the clubs eliminated at the first stage of the tournament which ends in December subsequently being invited in another competition which will run until the end of the season.
For the U21 League, which is replacing the Reserve league, Arsenal will face Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, Norwich, West Ham, West Brom and Reading before Christmas, with the games against Blackburn and Bolton to take place at Emirates Stadium later this month.
Some eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Arsenal’s home fixtures in the NextGen Series, a competition which enables the young Gunners to test themselves against sides from across Europe, will be played in the humble surroundings of Barnet’s Underhill Stadium, but that should at least guarantee cheap entry for fans interested in seeing Burton’s crop take on Marseille, Olympiacos and Athletic Bilbao.
With regards to the Asia Tour, two youngsters certainly enhanced their growing reputations throughout the course of the trip in Thomas Eisfeld and Chuks Aneke. Eisfeld, signed from Borussia Dortmund in January, scored twice in three cameo appearances, whilst powerful midfielder Aneke, who did not enjoy the greatest success out on loan last season, also found the net and demonstrated his impressive range of passing.
Benik Afobe, in contrast, was not at his sharpest in the Far East and is expected to conclude a loan move to Bolton Wanderers shortly. Afobe, who has previously spent time with Reading and Huddersfield Town, will be seeking to use his spell with Owen Coyle’s side to prove that he is capable of playing at the highest level.