There may be no winter break in England at first-team level, but Arsenal Under-21s enjoyed a well-earned rest over the festive period. And after more than five weeks without a game, coach Terry Burton is itching to get back to action.
The Club’s young stars showed plenty of promise in the first half of the season. In National Group One, they won seven and drew three of their 14 games as they finished in second spot behind West Ham. As a result, those two and today’s opponents, West Brom, progressed through to the Elite Group stage.
Between now and April, the Gunners will face the cream of England in a series of enticing clashes against the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham. It is an exciting prospect, and Burton cannot wait to see how his side fare.
“It’s always nice when the games start again,” he told Arsenal.com. “The players look forward to the games and we’re pleased with the programme.
“It’s a new fixture list so we’ll be playing a few teams we’re used to, but some different teams as well. West Ham and West Brom, who we’ve already played, are decent sides. Now we’re going to come up against the other top teams from their respective groups so it will be a tough test for everybody.
You always hope that you’ll be playing against quality opposition who will cause you a problemTerry Burton
“You always hope that you’ll be playing against quality opposition who will cause you a problem. Whether it’s the intensity and the tempo of the game that makes you play quicker, or a forward who causes the defence problems with his movement. There will be different problems set for those players and that’s what you’re trying to get.
“The disappointing thing is that most of the environments are not what you would want in terms of main stadia. They’re all training grounds and secondary grounds apart from West Brom, who are playing at The Hawthorns again.
“When you’re trying to replicate first-team action, you get good opposition but the stadia and the excitement of playing in front of a crowd doesn’t match it. We played at the Emirates a couple of times, which was great. I think those things add to it. But you can’t have everything.”
Burton was pleased with his players’ performance before Christmas, and is hopeful they can get off to a strong start against West Brom in a behind-closed doors game at London Colney on Wednesday afternoon.
“Like all West Brom teams, they are very well organised,” he said. “They work off their shape really well and within that, they’ve got some decent players. They’re always difficult to play against so it will be a tough start for us. But we are looking forward to it.”
We will have live tweets from the under-21s' game today