Gunners Sign Up To U-21 Premier League
Arsenal have announced that Barnet F.C's Underhill Stadium will be used to stage the home games for the U-19 ape of the Champions League, NextGen series. Underhill has long been home to Arsenal's Reserves though reserve matches were cut back at the League Two side's ground two seasons ago during the winter months in favour of London Colney's more comfortable conditions. The Young Gunners face Olympique Marseilles, Olympiacos and Athletic Bilbao in their group and all games will be open to the public at Underhill. The youngsters get the added bonus of facing Olympiacos U-19s in the first team's stadium, Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.
The Reserve League- now rebranded the U-21 Premier League- also announced their fixture list today and the first two home games of the season will be hosted at Ashburton Grove. Monday, 20th August at 7pm Arsenal U-21s will face Bolton there and on Saturday, 25th August- a bank holiday Saturday with the first team away at Stoke the next day- they face Blackburn Rovers at 2pm. Terry Burton takes charge of both the U-21 and U-19 sides.
The new format will be an U-21 competition which will allow for four players older than 21 in the matchday 18. The 23 teams that have signed up are split into two groups of eight and one group of 7 that will play one another between August and December- much like the Champions League. The Top two from each group go through to the elite stage from January. The two best third placed teams will also join them as the competition becomes a knockout format. The idea is that fixtures are more regular, giving young players more game time to develop.
Arsenal's group contains Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Norwich City, West Ham United, Reading and West Bromwich Albion. The young Gunners will play all but two of their home games in front of the public at The Grove or Underhill and the final two behind closed doors at London Colney.
The club have not yet announced pricing structures for attending these matches. One imagines the NextGen games will be free as the Reserve games are at Barnet, whether or not the doors of Ashburton Grove will be thrust open gratis remains to be seen. I think it'd be a nice touch on the club's part if at least kiddies could get in for free. But we shall see. LD.