By Nik Brumsack
Terry Burton’s Arsenal Under-21 team have made great strides forward since the last time they faced West Ham United.
On a rainy night in Romford not even two months ago, Burton’s youngsters were undone by a rampant attacking display from their London rivals.
Since then, results have picked up emphatically. Burton’s team have won three of their last four and picked up seven points from three tricky away trips that took in Everton, Blackburn and finally Bolton.
That run of form has seen Arsenal progress steadily up the league table. They are two points behind Friday’s opponents and pace-setters at the top of the table, and will go top with victory at London Colney - though Burton’s No 1 priority is to right the wrongs of the team’s last meeting with a good performance.
“We were well below par on the day,” Burton told Arsenal.com. “We didn’t perform as we would expect. I now know that they are a very good opposition and they’ve proved that by leading the section of the Under-21 league.
“It will be another tough game on Friday but that’s what we want. We want testers and what we’ve got to do is prove that we can deal with whatever West Ham throw at us.
“I don’t look at the league table. These players want to win every game they play in. If you do that, league positions take care of themselves. It will be more about putting in a good performance and the players trying to move towards their aim which is to show they’re good enough to be first-team players.”
Serge Gnabry and Igansi Miquel are likely to be available for the clash against the Hammers, while first-team goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny could also be in line for a start as he continues his rehabilitation from the ankle injury that has kept him out since mid-September.
That trio will not be alone in having amassed performances at the top level - Damian Martinez, Jernade Meade and Thomas Eisfeld have all featured in the Capital One Cup this season, an experience Burton believes will be beneficial to their development.
“That’s what their aim is - to be playing in the first team,” he said. “From that point of view, they’re on their way to achieving what they need to achieve. I think it has a massively positive effect and can only sharpen them up. Hopefully it will give them a taste of what could be.”Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source