By Declan Taylor
Once again Neil Banfield will call upon the services of returning frontman Eduardo for Arsenal Reserves’ first action of the year when they take on Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium tonight.
The trip to the Potteries is the first of five successive away trips for Banfield and his side as they look to make their mark at the top end of Reserve League South. A win tonight would move the second string within two points of stuttering leaders Aston Villa, who have only managed one win in their last four outings.
Despite insisting that the development of his players is of paramount importance, the manager admits that winning the league is a distinct ambition.
“Of course we would like to win the league but our over-riding view is that this is a development team,” Banfield said ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Stoke. “We use our young players to develop their game so they can make the next step towards the first team.
“But of course we would love to win the league. As we have always said, every game you play in you want to win and every league you compete in you want to come top of.”
Things have changed personnel-wise since the Reserves overcame Portsmouth 2-0 in December with loanees moving in both directions. One man expected to feature against the Potters is Havard Nordtveit, who captained the reserves last term, before spending the first half of this season on loan at UD Salamanca.
However, Banfield will have to do without Jay Simpson and Gavin Hoyte who are away on loan at West Brom and Watford respectively.
“Havard is really looking forward to kick-starting his Arsenal career again and having a game here,” the manager said. “He hasn’t played for us for a long time and it’s good to have him back and he’s looking forward to playing.
“It’s good that they go out on loan, they need it for their development stage. We’ve got other players coming through and we see the loans [of Hoyte and Simpson] as another part of their education.
“Jay and Gavin have done extremely well and Nacer [Barazite] was on the telly against Man United last night. It is great experience for them and it is part of their development and their fight to get into the first team. Most importantly it is all good for the Club.”
Simpson himself notched in the Reserves’ hard-fought 3-2 win over Stoke in October. And, despite goals from Vincent Pericard and Danny Pugh, Arsenal thoroughly deserved their late winner from Rui Fonte.
The manager is expecting more of the same from Stoke this time around, certain that facing the more physical opponents is crucial in his players’ development.
“I think it is always going to be a tough game at Stoke,” he said. “We are expecting a really hard one up there but hopefully we can come away as victors.
“These games are all part of their learning. It is going to be a tough hard game and we’re looking forward to going up there and having a good game against them.”
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