Traditionally development has always tended to take precedence over results at youth level. That remains the case, but, this season, with promotion back to the top tier of U21 football a key aim, the earning of points has taken on a new level of importance for Arsenal’s youngsters.
A set of inconsistent results last campaign meant that Arsenal U21s failed to keep their place in the top tier of second-string football and were instead effectively relegated to the newly-created second division. The biggest consequence of their demotion was that, rather than playing the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool, Arsenal’s youngsters have instead been facing sides of the calibre of Derby County, Reading and Brighton & Hove Albion this season.
It can be difficult for teams to perform consistently at U21 level with players often dropping out of the side due to first-team commitments, loan deals, international call-ups and injuries, but this week the young Gunners were boosted by the inclusion of three senior players- Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby- for their game against Stoke City.
Arsenal, despite a slow start, ran out 4-1 winners at Emirates Stadium. The goals came courtesy of a hat-trick from Alex Iwobi and a strike from Stephy Mavididi, but it couldn’t be denied that the first-team contingent, which was added to by the involvement of Serge Gnabry and Krystian Bielik, had helped Arsenal to prevail.
The result could prove to be a crucial one in terms of the U21 side’s aspirations of earning promotion. The top two of the division will be promoted and, at present, Steve Gatting’s team are currently in fourth place, with games in hand on all of the teams around them.
Their next assignment is also at Emirates, against Reading on Monday, and, although there are likely to be fewer first-team players on show, Gatting’s team will still be confident of registering another victory, with Iwobi in fine form and Bielik adjusting quickly to English football.
Following that, there are six more league games to come, including a trip to face league leaders Middlesbrough, but the victory over Stoke has certainly put Arsenal’s youngsters in a great position going into the closing stages of the campaign.