Pre-Match Report

U21s Middlesbrough v Arsenal - Preview

While 2,217 fans were watching Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry in action for Arsenal Under-21s at Emirates Stadium last week, very few would have noticed the 18-year-old continuing his own rehabilitation from injury.

After five months on the sidelines, Julio Pleguezuelo made his first start of the season for Steve Gatting’s side in an unfamiliar role at right back.

It was the first time the teenager had completed 90 minutes since November’s 1-0 Uefa Youth League win against Borussia Dortmund and only the second time he has done so during a difficult campaign.

"If in the future I have to play right back or centre back, it’s always good to learn from the first-team players"

Julio Pleguezuelo

“This season I’ve had a couple of long injuries,” Pleguezuelo told Arsenal.com. “I did my ankle first and then, in my first game back, I did my groin.

“I was out for nearly three months, came back for three games and did my knee and was out for four months. I played against Stoke for 20 minutes and then made my first start of the season for the under-21s against Reading.

“It’s been a tough season but I have to be strong mentally. My family are all in Spain so I’m all alone in England. It’s quite hard but it helps you a lot, especially the support I receive from my team-mates and coaches.

“I’m living with a family here and they have helped me through it. The physiotherapists have also been really helpful because they’ve seen all my injuries so they know how tough it is for me to get into the team. I just have to keep working hard.”

It has been almost two years since Pleguezuelo followed Cesc Fabregas, Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin to north London from Barcelona, and the defender is delighted with how the latter has performed this season.

“I’m so happy for how Hector is doing in the first team now,” he said. “He deserves it and I’m going to try to learn from him. If in the future I have to play right back or centre back, it’s always good to learn from the first-team players.

“I’m working to break into the first team. Hopefully all my injuries are away now and I can just focus on working hard every day, helping my team-mates and just trying to make it.”

Arsenal Under-21s face Middlesbrough at Riverside Stadium on Monday. Kick-off is at 7pm (UK time) and you can follow updates on @Arsenal from 6.55pm.

Julio Pleguezuelo

Julio Pleguezuelo

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