There was some concern when the Reserve league was transformed into a U21 system at the start of the current campaign that the new rules would mean fewer outings for senior players at second-string level. Such a theory appeared to be backed up by the fact that, in the first three games of the season, coach Terry Burton didn’t call upon a single member of Arsene Wenger’s first-team squad.
That all changed when Sebastien Squillaci received a run-out against Norwich City as one of three over-age players, before Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong made their highly-publicised first starts for a prolonged period in the defeat to West Bromwich Albion this week. The pair are still a little way off challenging for a place in the first-team picture at present, and are expected to line up again for the U21s against Reading at Underhill on Monday night, where they could be joined by another senior figure in Bacary Sagna, who is making his own recovery from an, albeit much shorter, spell on the sidelines.
One benefit to Burton is that, as Wilshere and Frimpong are still classed as U21 players, he can field both of them and still have his three slots for senior players available, meaning that, feasibly, first-team players currently starved of game time, such as Squillaci, Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh could also be called upon if required.
That is all well and good, but Wilshere’s return, as heartening as it was, rather glossed over the fact that the second-string, following a highly impressive start to the season in which they won their first three games, all of which were at home, have now lost two matches in succession, with a string of difficult looking away fixtures to follow the Reading game.
Arsenal’s NextGen Series campaign has also stalled a little of late following a hugely promising start. Marseille were comfortably dispatched of at Underhill in the opening fixture, but the Gunners have since dropped four points over the course of two fixtures against Olympiacos, which included a frustrating goalless draw at Barnet last night.
Burton knows that his side will probably have to take maximum points from at least one of their remaining three fixtures, two of which are away, if they are to stand any chance of progressing to the next phase.
There has also been some good news on the loanees front of late, with 18-year-old striker Philip Roberts scoring his first senior goal for Inverness last weekend, whilst Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond, whose contracts at Emirates Stadium expire at the end of the season, were impressive on their respective debuts for Colchester United in League One. Chuks Aneke, meanwhile, is poised to have his loan deal at Crewe Alexandra extended despite having missed his side’s past three games through suspension.