Pre-Match Report

Under-21s: Arsenal v Liverpool - Preview

Celebrating the winning goal against CSKA Moscow
Celebrating the winning goal against CSKA Moscow

After 27 games, 11 wins and 45 goals scored, the curtain comes down on Arsenal Under-21s' season tonight when they take on Liverpool at Underhill.

And for coach Steve Gatting, the 2012/13 campaign is one that will be remembered fondly.

Propelled by wins in their opening three games of the season, the under-21s finished the first phase of the league behind West Ham and progressed to the national elite group stage.

Youngsters Martin Angha, Damian Martinez, Thomas Eisfeld and Serge Gnabry all made their first-team debuts after shining during the first two months of the season, with Jernade Meade also promoted to the first team for the Champions League defeat against Olympiacos in Greece.

Serge Gnabry

Serge Gnabry

A string of solid results followed for the under-21s in 2013, with the last-gasp victory against Manchester United a particular highlight. More importantly, the likes of Hector Bellerin, Isaac Hayden, Kris Olsson, Gnabry and top scorer Chuba Akpom have continued to blossom in their first full season at this level.

Those five all started at Anfield in April, when the under-21s were beaten 3-2 despite producing a promising performance in an pulsating encounter against Friday's opponents.

"That game really sticks out," Gatting told "There have been some really good performances but the one that sticks in my memory is the one at Anfield.

"We went a long way in the NextGen Series and got into the elite group stage at under-21 level. For a young side, that's promising"

Steve Gatting

"We went there with a young team, played against a really good Liverpool side and I thought we were excellent on the night. It showed how playing on good pitches can help develop the boys.

"There are four or five boys who have been involved around the first team and have featured in cup games. Chuba has had a very promising first season at this level. He's been our only forward for most of the season and he told me after our last game that he's got 17 goals for the season, which is a great return for him.

"All in all, it's been very positive, whether you're talking about the boys that have played for the under-21s or the boys that have played in the NextGen Series.

"Some of the boys have been involved in the first team and have performed well during the season. We went a long way in the NextGen Series and got into the elite group stage at under-21 level. For a young side, that's promising."

With a large proportion of the squad called upon during the Club's NextGen Series campaign, you could forgive the players for wanting a break.

But before they can think of far-flung shores, there is a game to be won - and, despite it now being impossible for Gatting’s side to become champions of the under-21 league, Friday's fixture is one which carries real sentiment.

The match will be Arsenal's farewell to Underhill, the long-term home of the Club's second string. Arsene Wenger has regularly brought his side to Barnet for pre-season friendlies in the past and Gatting will leave with good memories of the famous slope.

"We've been here for years and I want to say thank you to Barnet for letting us use it," he said. "You get used to the slope and it does give you an advantage to a degree.

"It's going to be a tough game. Liverpool are a good side and it will be a real test. I'm sure both teams will try to get the ball down and play and it's got all the makings of a good final game of the season."

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