By Giuseppe Muro
The Premier Reserve League returns with a bang on Monday night when Arsenal host Manchester United in a mouthwatering curtain-raiser at Underhill.
Last season’s emergence of Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny underlined the role that Neil Banfield and his staff play in nurturing the Club’s next generation and the current crop of youngsters look set for another exiting year.
Benik Afobe, Ignasi Miquel and Henri Lansbury, who could all feature in the season opener, have linked up with Arsene Wenger’s senior squad during the summer while more of the second string are waiting in the wings.
In the Reserve League South, Banfield will pit his side against new opposition during 2011/12 in the shape of Swansea and Norwich as well as renewing acquaintances with old adversaries Chelsea and Aston Villa.
The manager has enjoyed great success with the Reserves over the years and is looking forward to another season of implementing Arsenal’s tried and tested formula of producing quality young players.
“There will be no change in our approach because it is an approach that works,” he told Arsenal.com. “We will continue with it and hopefully develop a few into first-team players.
“There is always a sense of excitement at this time of year. In our job we are looking to promote from within the Club and that is what we are trying to achieve.
“I am always hopeful that some of them can make the step up. The strategy from the manager right the way down is to get players into the senior squad. Hopefully a couple will get through this year.
“We work on two fronts - it is about getting players through to the first-team group and winning the [Reserve] League. They are of joint importance but, for me, it is always about getting players into the first team.
“It’s the next lot of players coming through now and they are all starting their careers so it is always an exciting time of the season. They are very hungry and they are excited about the forthcoming season as well.”
Arsenal’s youngsters recorded five impressive wins from their five games over the summer but, while it does lay an excellent foundation for the months ahead, they are unlikely to have things all their own way against United on Monday.
Thomas Vermaelen made his comeback from injury as the two sides played out a high-quality 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in the final game of last season and Banfield is expecting another tight affair.
“I don’t think there could be a better game to start with,” he said. “I don’t know what side they will send down but any team from Manchester United will be a very difficult game.
“Then we play Wigan, Sunderland, Blackburn and Bolton - they are all really good games. It will be interesting to see how our young players react and get on in the league.
“But I’ve been really pleased with the way pre-season has gone. The way the players have played, trained and worked has been very pleasing.”
Banfield has a sizeable squad to choose from before the yearly batch of players follow Kyle Bartley, James Shea and Samuel Galindo on loan.
Young defender Miquel, fresh from winning the European Under-19 Championships with Spain over the summer, will continue as captain while Vito Mannone is expected to start between the posts.
Arsenal.com will bring you live text commentary from the game and match highlights will be available 'on demand' on Arsenal Player from Tuesday afternoon.
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