Twice Arsenal Under-21s have faced West Ham this season. Twice they have lost. They will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky at London Colney this afternoon.
The first of those matches, played in driving rain at Rush Green in September, saw Kyle Ebecilio give Terry Burton’s team an early lead. That was as good as it got though, as the hosts rallied to eventually inflict a 4-1 defeat on a young Gunners side - their first of the season and one which left the manager far from pleased.
“It was disappointing,” Burton said after the game. “It’s disappointing to get beat. It’s disappointing to get beat 4-1 and it’s disappointing when we put in a performance like that.”
In the return game at London Colney in November, Serge Gnabry looked to have rescued a point for Arsenal, but Paul McCallum’s late winner ensured that the points would again go to east London.
The sides meet at London Colney on Monday, this time in the Elite Stage of the Under-21 Premier League.
But with the rearranged FA Youth Cup tie at home to Fulham now scheduled to take place on Tuesday evening, it is likely that players eligible to play in that competition, including under-21 regulars Hector Bellerin, Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden, will play no part against West Ham.
And with the majority of the first-team stars that featured in the under-21s’ last game, the 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion, expected to be in the senior squad for Wednesday’s game against Liverpool, Burton is likely to pick a team made up of younger players.
Conor Henderson, who started the under-21 season with three goals in his first two games, could feature after returning from a loan spell with Coventry City. He is likely to be partnered in midfield by the fit again Nico Yennaris, whose last appearance at this level came in the 2-1 defeat by West Ham.
"Unlike previous years,the majority of Arsenal’s second-string regulars won’t be loaned out in January"
Sead Hajrovic and Martin Angha should resume their partnership atthe heart of the defence, while top scorer in the first stage of this year’s under-21 league, Thomas Eisfeld, will be hoping to add to his eight goals.
Unlike previous years,the majority of Arsenal’s second-string regulars won’t be loaned out in January. Hajrovic, Angha and Eisfeld, plus Jernade Meade, have all been included in a first-team squad this season, but are unlikely to move away from Emirates Stadium to increase their senior match experience.
West Ham have sent an array of youngsters out on loan, with the likes of Ryan Hall and Blair Turgott now temporarily plying their trade at football league clubs. Nick Hancock could name a similar side to the one that was defeated 5-2 by Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Youth Cup last week.
Burton’s team, on the other hand, have played only once in just under two months, due to the winter break and the postponement of last Sunday’s game at Southampton.
But with fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester United on the horizon, the under-21 boss will be hoping that his side can begin to build some momentum.
And for his players, Monday will be all about righting the wrongs of the last two results against their London rivals.
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