By Declan Taylor
Tonight’s Underhill clash between Arsenal and West Brom is the final act of this season’s Reserve League South campaign. And, despite finishing well off the pace points-wise, Neil Banfield thinks the year has been a genuine success.
Defeat against the Baggies this evening will condemn the Gunners to a second-bottom finish, just two points ahead of Stoke City. However, a victory will take Banfield’s boys’ points tally to 19 meaning they leap-frog Chelsea into sixth spot.
The Gunners looked like genuine title challengers in January when they trailed leaders Aston Villa by five points with a game in hand. But a run of eight games without a win has seen the Gunners slide down the table.
That said, the early season Reserve line-up is hardly recognisable to one which could line up against the Baggies this evening as loan deals and first-team commitments have impacted heavily on Banfield’s selection options.
But for him, that is the true measure of second-string success.
“I think this season has been successful,” Banfield told Arsenal.com.
“We’ve had the likes of Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere getting into the first team and we’ve seen a couple of kids going out on loan.
“Results-wise we’d like to be higher up in the table and I think we could have made a better fist of it all-round but overall I’m very happy with it. The most pleasing part for me is obviously Kieran getting into the first team. He has established himself as a first team squad member and he’s doing very well.
“I don’t think there have been too many disappointments. Overall you could look at the number of defeats and we expect to do a bit better. That said, I think it’s a result of the way we have set it up here.”
Five days ago, Arsenal managed a creditable draw against an experienced West Brom line-up at the Hawthorns. Banfield expects more of the same from the opponents tonight but, as ever, he is only focusing on his own side.
“West Brom do put very senior sides out and play in the right way.” he said. “They are trying to develop their young players as well and I thought it was a good display against them last week.
“I don’t really look too much at their side until we get there. I know a lot of the sides play senior players but I’m more concerned with how we play and how our individuals perform.
“We’ll be juggling it around again tonight. We’ve got a few knocks and pulls from Friday night and we want to make sure they’re OK. Some of these Under-18 lads would be playing three times in five days plus all the travelling of course. We need to take that all into account so we’ll see how they go.
“Of course I’d like to win every game – that’s a given and we’d like to win tonight.”
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