“This is the best feeling in the world,” said a beaming Chuba Akpom by the changing rooms at the Centro Sportivo Giacinto Faccheti. The whooping and hollering from the away changing room was at full pitch, the smiles of satisfaction from the coaching staff grew broader by the minute.
Arsenal had just performed superbly to beat the NextGen Series holders, Inter Milan, in the driving rain and on an almost unplayable pitch. It was some achievement and the euphoria from the travelling party was infectious. To win in Italy is no mean feat; to win in Italy on that surface was something extraordinary.
However, the challenge now facing Steve Gatting’s side is turn their focus back to the more prosaic nature of the Under-21 Premier League.
While the Saints may have had a turbulent time at first-team level this season, their youth teams remain as impressive as ever
Having enjoyed an excellent run of form before Christmas to finish second in National Group One, the Gunners have found the going rather tougher since graduating to the elite group stage. Despite some encouraging performances, they are yet to win any of their five games so far, drawing three and losing two.
They welcome Southampton to Underhill tonight and, while the Saints may have had a turbulent time at first-team level this season, their youth teams remain as impressive as ever.
Tottenham’s in-form midfielder Gareth Bale, Swansea winger Nathan Dyer and Saints captain Adam Lallana all learned their trade on the south coast. It is a production line that is the envy of clubs up and down the country.
More recently, Southampton have successfully integrated the prodigious Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse into the first team as they pursue Premier League survival. It is a near-certainty that they will dip into their current under-21 side for more gems to polish over the coming years - so this will be another major test for Arsenal’s own stars in the making.
Many of the side that beat Inter Milan are expected to feature again this evening, although the snow in north London means conditions will once again be difficult.
But having won in Italy in the most trying of circumstances, confidence will should flow freely through the likes of Serge Gnabry, Hector Bellerin and Akpom. A victory against the Saints would only strengthen the growing belief that this highly-promising group have what it takes to make significant steps towards the first team.
They may ultimately have one eye on NextGen glory, but momentum needs to be built slowly but surely. And that starts at Underhill tonight.
We will have live tweets from Underhill on the @ArsenalLive account from 6.55pm tonight (UK time)Copyright 2014 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 11 Mar 2013