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 "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."

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7 Sep 2009