By Rob Kelly
Momentum is a buzzword at Arsenal at present. From the first team to the Reserves through to the Under-18s and Ladies, progress is clear and the positive results just keep on stacking up.
Gone are the dark days of late August and early September, replaced with an overriding sense of optimism and belief that has lifted the entire Club. There have been difficult times, but as the 2011/12 campaign nears its conclusion it is clear that everything is moving in the right direction. As the motto says: Forward.
As the first team reflect on a eighth win in nine matches, the Reserves prepare to return to action for the first time in three weeks against Newcastle on Tuesday night, having claimed five victories and a draw in their past six games.
For much of the season, the second string's results have seemed to mirror, and even slightly anticipate, those of their senior counterparts.
As Neil Banfield's side struggled during the winter months, so the first team found the going tough in December and January. As the Reserves found their feet again in February to launch a sustained run of superb form, so Arsene Wenger's side began to fire once more.
Momentum seems to be driving the Club forward, and Banfield will be looking for more evidence of progress from his young team when they kick off at Whitley Park tonight.
Highly-encouraging displays against Chelsea and West Brom saw the second string maintain their strong form at the start of March, while they were slightly unlucky not to get more than a point in their last encounter, a 1-1 draw at Liverpool.
Development may be key at this level but instilling a winning attitude is important too, as Banfield has acknowledged. However, the manager will have to do without three of his rising stars for the trip to the North East, having seen Chuks Aneke, Nico Yennaris and Benik Afobe all depart on loan in recent weeks.
The trio have grown up together at the Club and have joined Preston, Notts County and Reading respectively for temporary spells, a key step in their development as they push for first-team places. Their departures will inevitably open the door for others, such as the industrious Josh Rees, to step up and stake their claim at this level.
Arsenal will face a testing time against Newcastle in their penultimate match of the campaign. The Magpies have lost their last three fixtures, but heading to the North East is always a major challenge and the Gunners will have to demonstrate all the quality they have shown in recent months to leave with a positive result.
But with progress being made at all levels of the Club, confidence is high that Banfield’s men will continue in a positive vein. In a season of rebirth, Arsenal’s next generation are yet another reason for renewed optimism.
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