By Matt Fortune

If the current trend is to continue, Arsenal’s second string look set for the top of the Reserve League South.

Two seasons ago Neil Banfield oversaw a season best described as a steep learning curve as his side finished ninth of 10 in the division. It doesn’t tell the whole story. All too often there was a chasm in experience, age and size between the young Gunners and their opponents; the lessons were hard. Fast forward a year and, while the standard of those they faced was the same, the Club achieved a great deal more. A faster, stronger, hungrier team took to the field, finishing just five points off the top with several key players breaking through into the first-team.

Now for the third year on the trot the same group, plus a few new additions, will continue their journey into professional football. They start tonight with the visit of a Chelsea side containing Didier Drogba.

“That is the good part of the Reserves and why it is so important for us,” Banfield told Arsenal.com. “To have players of Drogba’s stature playing won’t stop us going out there to win it, and it will certainly be a great test for our lads.

“I am really looking forward to it. It is nice to get our season underway, everyone else has kicked-off their campaign, and it is our turn tonight. It will be an interesting one against Chelsea, too.”

Results-wise pre-season has been positive for the Arsenal youngsters. Wins over Crawley, Rushden and Diamonds, Boreham Wood and Worthing have all come at the expense of just two goals. It is an ideal foundation for the season ahead.

“What we are looking to this season is for more consistency to the lads’ game. That is what we expect with our players as they get older, and with it they can try and force their way into first-team matters, perhaps in the Carling Cup squad. It is the next development stage.”

Banfield also believes the familiarity factor will help his team.

“I think it obviously helps that they have known each other for a while and have been playing together for some time,” he explained.

“On the flip side, though, some of them find it stale in the Reserves because they have been open to it so early. But that works for them in a way because it invites them to keep working hard, putting in good performances and striving to push on out of it.”

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 1 Sep 2008