Blues Open EFL Trophy Campaign at Home to Arsenal U21s
Monday, 7th Sep 2020 14:20
Town host Arsenal’s U21s in their first group game in this season’s EFL Trophy at Portman Road on Tuesday evening (KO 7.45pm).
The Blues will be looking to build on the positive start they made to the season on Saturday when Bristol Rovers were comprehensively beaten 3-0 in the Carabao Cup.
“It is [nice to get off to a winning start]. Obviously you’re looking at things we’ve done during pre-season, some of the tactical work we’ve done, it was very pleasing to see on Saturday, first-team coach Matt Gill said.
“I think the lads had a real purpose about them all game, and that’s all you can ask.
“It was a really purposeful performance, putting some of the stuff into play that we’ve been working on.
“I’m really pleased for the players because they’ve worked hard. It’s been a weird time, obviously, having all that time off and coming back into a full-blown pre-season, so I think they deserve a lot of credit, loads and loads of credit. I’m pleased for them, obviously it’s small steps and we need to build on today.”
He added “Obviously there’s a positive feeling in the dressing room. I think our approach is just to be consistent week-in, week-out, don’t get too high.
“It’s important that we remain consistent and level-headed and just keep reviewing games, stick to the process and go on to the next one with the same purpose that we set out on Saturday.”
While the EFL Trophy is far from one of Town’s priorities this season, Gill says the Blues need to build on the momentum from the weekend.
“I think that’s important,” he continued. “If you’re a player who has been sat on your bottom for five months, you just want to get out there and play again and you want to perform and make sure you stay in that team.
“I think the manager’s mentioned it quite a bit that there’s a lot of competition for places. I know that if I’d had five months off I just want to rattle out the performances, keep playing and get that level of consistency and momentum that we’re all crying out for.”
Looking to the team which will line up against the Gunners youngsters, Gill was asked whether the team would be those that weren’t involved or played roles from the bench in the season opener.
“Maybe, we’ll see how everyone rocks up on Sunday and I’m sure there’ll be a few aches and pains, which you get early on in the season,” he said.
“I think we’ll assess it and see what we look like for Monday’s training and then going into the game on Tuesday. Another game the lads should be looking forward to.”
Gill is a big fan of the EFL Trophy in which the Blues played five times and reached the round three last season before losing 2-1 at Exeter, handing eight young players their debuts along the way.
“I think I said last year that I like the competition, I think it’s great for those boys to get opportunities” he said.
“Probably Idris El Mizouni got a loan off the back of it [at Cambridge United], which is all you can ask for with that youth development head on. Ultimately we want them to be play first-team football to help us, whenever that may be.
“It’s a positive competition as far as that’s concerned and I’m sure people will get an opportunity this year.”
But he says 16 and 17-year-olds are likely to feature more rarely this time around with Town taking a more consistent approach across all competitions.
“I’d probably say not so much, “ he said. “I think that word I’ve used, consistency, it’s consistency in performance but also from the staff. I think the players need a certain amount of consistency from us and team selection comes into that, and I think that will be important.
“There will probably be one or two changes, there will be changes but I think it is important that we give the players a level of consistency as much as we’re asking the players to give us a level of consistency.”
But those younger players who do come into the team should have little trouble fitting in with the club looking to inculcate an identity and way of playing across the age groups.
“I think it’s a work in progress and something that we’re trying to instil,” Gill said. “The manager spoke about it in pre-season, we want to have a strong playing identity and the consistency of that is going to be important.
“Hopefully we can have an U23s team and an U18s team that all play in similar ways but remain purposeful in the way they’re playing.
“Obviously, the club’s quite joined-up, how it should be. [Academy head of coaching and player development] Bryan [Klug] and [general manager of football operations and academy manager] Lee [O’Neill] having academy roles and being close to the first team, like they have been this pre-season, can only help the club be more joined-up and that will filter down.”
Moving on to what he is expecting from Arsenal’s youngsters, Gill said: “I think it will be a tough game. They’re going to play some good stuff. I’d imagine they won’t be too far away from the style of play that the first team play.
“I think they’ve produced some really good young players of late, and those players have been given an opportunity, the Joe Willocks, the Bukayo Sakas, Eddie Nketiah and having been an U23s coach, that’s the sort of motivation you want in the dressing room. They know that they may get an opportunity in that first team.
“I’m sure they’ll fly out of the traps and be desperate to perform against a senior team. Those clubs will use it for future loans as well, so those boys will recognise that it’s an important next step for them.
“So it will be a tough game and one in which we really need to have the same purpose about us that we did on Saturday.”
Town boss Paul Lambert looks set to start a number of those who were in the team that beat Bristol Rovers at the weekend while resting one or two who are short on match fitness or may have niggles.
The Blues boss could opt to hand David Cornell his Town debut in goal behind a back four which seems unlikely to include skipper Luke Chambers, who was replaced with a knock during Saturday’s game while playing at right-back.
Both Kane Vincent-Young (achilles) and Janoi Donacien missed the weekend fixture but the latter could be OK having suffered a minor knock at Cambridge in the final pre-season friendly. Otherwise, Gwion Edwards, a sub on Saturday, could start at right-back.
Lambert may stick with the rest of his back four, centre-halves Luke Woolfenden and Toto Nsiala and left-back Stephen Ward.
In midfield, Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop and Jon Nolan all impressed at the weekend, but the Town manager could bring Flynn Downes back into the side, the 21-year-old having been left out of the team which faced the Pirates after the interest from Crystal Palace and his subsequent transfer request. Lambert could also be weighing-up whether to give Emyr Huws or Idris El Mizouni some game-time.
Up front, Aaron Drinan may well keep his place down the middle after his impressive display on Saturday, although Lambert alternatively could look to give Oli Hawkins a first start to get some minutes in the summer signing’s legs.
It’s possible James Norwood could be on the bench having not been considered ready for Saturday’s match following his rehabilitation from his groin operation.
Two-goal Freddie Sears is again likely to start on the left with Alan Judge or perhaps Jack Lankester on the right.
The Town boss is restricted to the side he picks to some extend due to the rules of the competition with EFL teams obliged to field four qualifying outfield players in their starting XI. However, in reality that will have limited impact on his scope to select his team.
A qualifying outfield player is someone who started the club's previous match, someone in the top 10 players at the club in terms starting appearances in league and domestic cup competitions in the season up to this point, a player with 40 or more first-team appearances over their career or a player on loan from a Premier League or category one EFL side. If clubs transgress that rule they face a £5,000 fine.
Arsenal are expected to field a very young team with a number of their 19 and 20-year-olds having already gone out on loan.
Among those who could be involved whose name is familiar to Town fans is striker Harry Clarke, 19, who left the Blues for the North Londoners’ academy as a 15-year-old in 2015 having scored the ‘Barcelona goal’ for Town’s U14s which went viral a year earlier.
Norwegian-Rwandan winger George Lewis spent time training with the Blues prior to joining the Gunners from Norwegian side Fram Larvik last month.
Midfielder Tim Akinola, 19, who joined from Huddersfield this summer, may also be in the side, along with Jonathan Dinzeyi, a 20-year-old defender, who was released by Spurs in June.
Another midfielder James Olayinka, 19, was on loan at Northampton last season, while striker Folarin Balogun has refused a new contract and as a result is out of first-team contention. The 19-year-old is also likely be in the Gunners’ XI assuming a move isn’t close. Brighton have been linked.
Highly-rated midfielder Miguel Azeez, 17, and Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand, also 17 and a central midfielder, who recently signed from Feyenoord, could also be involved, while another ex-Town academy youngster Marcelo Flores, 16, is understood to have impressed since joining the Gunners last summer but is probably a little young to be involved.
Last season Arsenal’s U21s were eliminated at the group stage having finished third behind Peterborough - who the Blues defeated in the following round - and Northampton.
Town have received £20,000 for entering the competition and would net a further £10,000 if they defeat Arsenal in 90 minutes or £5,000 if the game is drawn at 90 minutes.
If that is the case, the match goes straight to penalties with the winner of the shoot-out gaining a bonus point.
Town subsequently face Gillingham at home on Tuesday 6th October and Crawley Town away on Tuesday 10th November in their other two group games.
Tuesday’s referee is Neil Hair from Cambridgeshire, who showed 83 yellow cards and three red in 27 games last season.
Hair was recently at Portman Road for the pre-season friendly against West Ham with his last competitive Town match the 1-0 defeat to Fleetwood at Portman Road in March in which he booked Blues skipper Chambers and one opposition player.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Donacien, Edwards, Ward, Smith, Chambers, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Wilson, Ndaba, Skuse, Dozzell, Bishop, Huws, Nolan, Judge, El Mizouni, Lankester, Sears, Hawkins, Drinan, Folami, Norwood.
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