Given that it is the final pre-season friendly before the resumption of the Premier League, the Arsenal squad for this weekend’s fixture with Cologne has a more senior feel about it, with Nico Yennaris and Serge Gnabry the only players from outside the first-team squad to make the trip.
The inclusion of Gnabry is significant in that it marks the first call-up to the senior squad for a player who was highly impressive in his debut season following his move from vfB Stuttgart. His return to his homeland for this venture will enable Arsene Wenger, who rates the 17 year old very highly, to assess exactly what level the young German is at and to decide how he will fit into his plans for the forthcoming campaign.
Gnabry seems likely to be involved in the squad for the Capital One Cup this season but, beyond that, has even spoken of a desire to feature in the Premier League at some stage. Whilst that may seem a little unlikely at this point, you cannot entirely rule out the possibilities of it happening, especially given the fact that hardly anybody would have expected Yennaris, the other youngster on the trip, to feature against Manchester United last season.
Both Gnabry and Yennaris will receive run-outs at some stage against Cologne, although the latter may be heading out on loan shortly afterwards. Yennaris had a brief spell with Notts County towards the end of last season which was cut short by illness, but his close friend Benik Afobe has already made quite an impression whilst on temporary transfer, scoring a hat-trick for Bolton Wanderers this week in their pre-season friendly with Tranmere Rovers.
It is not long now until the newly-restructured Premier Under-21 and Under-18 leagues get underway, with the fixtures for both competitions being devised so that both the under-21s and the under-18s will face the same fixtures each week, but not necessarily at the same location. For instance, the under-18s start with a trip to face Bolton next Saturday, before the under-21’s host the Trotters at Emirates Stadium two days later. This means that some players could form part of both squads, whilst the fact that the majority of under-21 games take place on either a Friday or a Monday means that Premier League managers can still include players who participate in those fixtures in their senior squads for weekend matches.
The changes, which see both competitions adopt a group stage format prior to becoming a knockout competition later in the season, ensure that the club’s many youngsters, there are currently 80 players in total on the club’s books, will be provided with plenty of opportunities to test themselves in a match situation. If you include the NextGen Series, an exciting adaptation of the Champions League, and the FA Youth Cup, which gets underway in December, then Arsenal are scheduled to play 35 fixtures across the under-21s to the under-18s before Christmas. This ability to afford youngsters more game time should certainly accelerate the process of determining which players will be good enough to make the cut in the long run.