By Chris Harris
Neil Banfield believes reserve-team football is still a "very important step" in a young player's development.
Arsenal will play two fewer fixtures in the Reserve League South this season after Tottenham decided not to enter a team in the division. That scuppers any chance of a second-string North London derby this term - one of the most eagerly-awaited fixtures for Arsenal's youngsters.
Spurs' decision to withdraw from the Reserve League has reignited debate over how that level of football fits into a system in which young players gain first-team experience on loan and - in some cases - also compete in the Carling Cup.
But speaking after his team beat Birmingham in their second fixture of the season, Banfield insisted that the Reserve League still has a vital role to play.
"I think reserve-team football is a very important step," he told Arsenal.com. "It is the next stage to being in the first team and I think you come to places like St. Andrews, you play against senior players and I don't think we should ever lose that. There should be stepping stones into the first team.
"I think the Reserve League could be improved. I would like to see us play nationally, I would like to see us play teams like Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, all the Premier League clubs, and you earn the right to be in that league. I think it can be improved but the concept of reserve-team football is vital for the development of young players.
"It really does surprise me to see teams dropping out and it saddens me. I think that at our club we've used it as a really good development tool and I think it can work if it's used the right way. At St. Andrews we saw some senior players come back and have a game, it is a lovely stadium and I think it is a vital factor in our game."Copyright 2013 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 7 Sep 2009