Arsenal Under-19s return to The Marcel Cerdan Stadium in Marseille on Wednesday with some unfinished business to attend to.
Terry Burton’s side were harshly beaten by a last-minute winner when they visited the south of France 11 months ago, on a pitch that was kindly described as “challenging”. The game will also be remembered for a horrible cruciate ligament injury suffered by Kyle Ebecilio early on.
The young Gunners will be looking to go one better this year in Uefa’s newly-structured Youth League after their impressive run to the NextGen Series semi-finals last season.
One of the notable changes to this year's format sees the youth fixtures mirror the Champions League schedule - giving the under-19s the opportunity to travel with the first team across Europe.
“It’s going to help everyone,” Isaac Hayden told Arsenal.com. “Some of the boys in the squad will be from the 95s group and there will even be some players in the 97s age group as well so it will be good for them to be around the first team, which doesn’t usually happen.”
We’ve said from the start that we know it’s about development but it’s also about getting that winning mentalityIsaac Hayden
The 18-year-old had his first taste of being around the senior team when he played the final minutes of Arsenal’s pre-season win against Manchester City in August, and the defender is eager for the side to go one step further in Europe this season.
“It was a very good experience for me. Any time you get to play, train or travel with the first team is always going to help me. I have confidence in my own ability and I need to keep working hard to impress the manager.
“It’s a slightly different competition this year. We are looking forward to playing Marseille again and it will be interesting to see if they cause us the same problems as they did last year.”
Their hosts did cause the Arsenal some problems in that game last season but the young Gunners comprehensive beaten the French side at Underhill two months earlier.
“I didn’t play in the game over there last season but from what the boys told me it was the pitch that killed the game,” said Hayden. “Hopefully this time the pitch will be better but they’ll provide a big test, as will all of the other teams in the group.
“We’ve said from the start that we know it’s about development but it’s also about getting that winning mentality. There’s a few of the boys who played in the NextGen Series last year so they will have a bit of experience of what it’s like to play against teams in a European competition.”
Arsenal’s academy have made a promising start to the season at both under-21 and under-18 level and they will be looking to take their good form into the Youth League under Steve Gatting on Wednesday afternoon. And Hayden is confident Arsenal can go one step further this time around.
“We did so well last year and we were unfortunate not to go on and win it like we wanted to do but this year is another good chance.
“To play on a such a high stage is what we all strive for.”Copyright 2017 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