All Guns Blazing: Star names could help Arsenal youngsters to seize second chance of promotion

Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla of Arsenal (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla of Arsenal (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images) - Credit: Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Although they spurned the chance to win the league title, Arsenal Under-21s still have a chance to reach the top tier of second-string football via the play-offs.

Steve Gatting’s side will surely be ruing the fact that they got into this situation in the first place, with defeats to Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion rendering automatic promotion an impossibility.

For the West Brom game, which ended in a 2-1 loss, Gatting was able to call upon Jack Wilshere, who scored his first goal at any level for almost a year.

It wasn’t sufficient to earn promotion, however, and thoughts must now turn to the play-offs, with the young Gunners taking on Blackburn Rovers in the semi-finals at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

Prevailing in that game won’t be an easy task – Arsenal won one fixture against Blackburn this campaign and lost the other – but Gatting’s squad could again be boosted by some senior stars, with Arsene Wenger suggesting that Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could play some part in proceedings as they continue their respective recoveries from injury.

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Arsenal have some talented players at this level, including Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock and Krystian Bielik, but the development of the club’s youngsters would be greatly enhanced if they are able to test themselves against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool in the top tier.

Arsenal started the Under-21 season in superb form, but they have struggled for consistency in 2016. Their cause is not helped by the fact that Gatting has been unable to name a settled line-up, while Alex Iwobi’s progression to the first team means he hasn’t featured at youth level recently.

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The injury situation is starting to ease and Gatting should have a strong squad to choose from for the game against Blackburn.

Rarely has a youth game been of such importance for Arsenal and it is possible that Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain, if they do feature, could be joined by other first-team players.

Playing in Division Two can often be a difficult task, with many sides adopting a physical approach or electing to play long balls with regularity. That, in itself, is an education, but competing against major clubs would be a much sterner test of the credentials of Arsenal’s latest batch of young talents.

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