If Arsenal U21s had serious designs on earning promotion to the top tier of second-string football for next season, then those plans have been hit by two disappointing defeats in the space of a week.
Today the young Gunners, with a side containing players such as Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, were beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa, with the result leaving Steve Gatting’s side with a sizeable task in terms of getting out of the second tier.
That followed a 3-2 loss away to Middlesbrough on Monday, although there were at least some positives to take from that encounter, with Arsenal playing some impressive football despite having goalkeeper Deyan Iliev (pictured) sent off early in the game.
Arsenal U21s now have four games remaining this season- against West Bromwich Albion, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers- and it is now clear that they will probably have to take maximum points from all of those games to stand a realistic chance of promotion.
The exact mathematics regarding promotion are rather complicated at present, with many of the teams occupying the higher positions in the table having played varying amounts of games so far. Arsenal have taken 28 points from their 18 fixtures and find themselves 13 points behind league leaders Middlesbrough, who have played a game more. The teams that finish in the top two places will earn promotion to the first division.
Development, of course, takes precedence over results at youth level, but it would surely be more beneficial for the club’s youngsters to test themselves against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool as opposed to Bolton, Stoke, Wolves and Derby County.
With several players, including Chuba Akpom, having recently gone out on loan, younger prospects are getting a chance at U21 level, such as striker Stephy Mavididi, who this week was called up to the England U17 squad for this summer’s European Championships for that age group.
George Dobson, who can play equally as effectively as centre-back and in defensive midfield, has also been ushered into the side of late following an injury to Krystian Bielik.
With Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Debuchy now back in the senior squad after spending some time with the U21s, a very youthful team has been fielded in recent matches, which could partly explain the negative results that have followed.
A lot of the players involved possess considerable experience of U21 football, though, with Crowley and Zelalem the club’s two brightest prospects below first-team level and Alex Iwobi having provided some tantalising glimpses of his ability.
The naming of such a young side has had an effect on the U18 squad and last week a team containing seven schoolboys in the starting line-up was thrashed 6-0 by Newcastle United. Amongst Arsenal’s substitutes for that fixture was left-winger Emile Smith-Rowe, who had the honour of being the first player to represent the club at U18 level who was born in the 21st century.