Arsenal youngsters set for West Brom clash

Arsenal's Serge Gnabry (left) celebrates with teammate Chuba Akpom (right)

Arsenal's Serge Gnabry (left) celebrates with teammate Chuba Akpom (right) - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Several of the younger Arsenal players will be handed a rare opportunity to run out on the Emirates Stadium turf later this week.

Under new Premier League rules, clubs are required to stage at least three Under-21 fixtures at their home ground and the Gunners will face West Brom at the Emirates on Thursday night.

The initiative has been welcomed by Arsenal’s development supremo Terry Burton, who sees no reason why some of the club’s youngsters should not soon grace the Emirates pitch on a more regular basis.

Burton, who returned to the club just over a year ago as reserves and head development coach, said: “We want to carry on that tradition of bringing through young players at Arsenal.

“I think it’s been one of the main benefits of the Premier League taking over the running of the Under-21s – prior to that there weren’t any reserve games at the Emirates and now there are at least three.

“That’s a real positive and it’ll be a fantastic experience for the players because, if they’re ever going to achieve first-team football, that’s where they’re going to have to play.”

Burton, who grew up in north London and played in the Arsenal side that won the FA Youth Cup in 1971, helped to oversee the emergence of a rich crop of young talent at the club during his previous spell as a coach there in the 1980s.

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Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Paul Merson all came through the ranks to become integral members of the Arsenal side that won league titles and cups under George Graham.

“It is more difficult now,” Burton admitted. “There’s a bigger pool of players to choose from than when that group came through.

“Clubs now recruit from a much wider area. But I believe that, if you’re good enough, you will get that opportunity – as we’ve seen with people like Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs.

“One advantage the younger players at this club have is that we’ve got a manager who wants to give them an opportunity.

“We had Gedion Zelalem and Serge Gnabry both sitting on the bench against Tottenham and I don’t see too many other Premier League clubs putting players that close to the first team.

“Chuba Akpom’s also caught the eye because of the goals he’s scored, so there is a sprinkling of young players here who have enough quality to be involved.”

Seventeen-year-old striker Akpom, who featured in the Gunners’ pre-season tour of Asia, is one of those tipped for a temporary move to gain first-team experience when the loan transfer window opens this week.

Over the coming months, Arsenal’s younger players will also have the opportunity to play in the new UEFA-run version of the Next Gen series, in which they reached the semi-finals last year.

The revamped competition will be open to under-19 rather than under-20 players and Burton added: “It’s still an opportunity to play quality youth opposition from around Europe and that’s what you want.

“If you’re good enough you should be playing as high a level of football as possible – it doesn’t matter about your age. However, it’s very difficult to go straight into the first team at a Premier League club.

“The loan system is the best for players to take that next step and go into other people’s first teams, because the experience you gain when you’re on loan is invaluable.

“It’s about getting the balance right, with the age of a player and what’s the right club for him. We’ll be looking at it and deciding which players we’d like to go out on loan.”

n Arsenal’s Barclays Under-21 Premier League match against West Brom on September 12 kicks off at 7pm and tickets are available for £5 (adults) and £2 (concessions) from or on 020 7619 5003.