Neil Banfield gets the chance to blood another crop of youngsters tonight as the Arsenal second string kick off their Barclays Premier Reserve League campaign against Fulham at Barnet’s Underhill.
And a certain Arsene Wenger will probably be in the stands checking the progress of the next batch of promising players coming through the Gunners ranks.
Wenger sees the reserves as very much a testing ground for emerging talent and Banfield relishes the chance to help groom these promising players into fully fledged Arsenal stars.
While other reserves managers look at the season with the objective of winning the title, Banfield admits his role as reserve team boss is all about nurturing talent to provide Wenger with a mixture of youth and experience in his squad.
Several youth players will no doubt get the nod for tonight’s game to plug the gaps left by key squad members going out on loan to league sides.
Regulars Henri Lansbury and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas have been farmed out to Watford and Blackpool respectively, while Norwegian youth international defender Harvard Nordtveit has joined Bundesliga side FC Nurnberg on loan for the 2009/2010 season.
Jack Wilshere could feature unless AW includes him in the Champions League squad to face Celtic on Wednesday and with Cesc Fabregas facing a fitness battle to make the game, that is a distinct possibility.
“You just need to look at this season’s first-team photo to measure our success,” said Banfield. “There was Wojciech Szczesny in there, Fran Merida, Keiron Gibbs, Wilshere. Then there are faces like Nicklas Bendtner and Johan Djourou who came up through the Reserves.
He added: “If we can get a couple of these lads into the first team group next season then that is our aim. Our aim has always been to produce young players from all over the world. Of course I think when you’re in professional football you want to win every game. I don’t know a top-class player who doesn’t want to win.
“Results are important but we want to win games in the right way. It is the education and development that is important. Everything is set up from the manager, we have regular meetings including myself and Academy manager Steve Bould. We’re trying to get it right so we can produce more young players for the first team.”
Similarly, Fulham’s squad has seen some changes over the summer after a season which saw boss Billy McKinlay steer his side to third behind Aston Villa and Tottenham. “Four or five players have come up from the Academy,” explained McKinlay. “There are also first year professionals and some second year scholars who have been progressing a little bit quicker. So there are a few changes to the squad and it’s good see some new faces to add a little bit of freshness.”
The action gets under way at 7pm — see a full match report here tomorrow.