As has become something of a tradition in recent years, Arsenal travel to Olympiacos for their final Champions League group stage fixture tonight with a clutch of unfamiliar youngsters in tow, five of whom are yet to make a senior appearance for the club.
Perhaps the biggest buzz is centring around 17 year old striker Chuba Akpom. The England youth international was expected to lead the line for the U18s this season having impressed during his final campaign as a schoolboy, but, instead, has seen his development accelerated to the extent that he is now on the cusp of the first-team squad.
Not the most clinical centre forward, but one who is extremely technically adept and tactically aware, Akpom has been the regular choice up front for Arsenal in the U21 League as well as the NextGen Series so far this season, and has impressed with his work-rate up front as well as his physicality against significantly older opponents.
Some similarities can be drawn between Akpom and fellow striker Zak Ansah, who has also made the squad for tonight’s game. Like Akpom, Ansah is very comfortable on the ball and also possesses an impressive passing range having enjoyed a stint as a central-midfielder early last season. He has only recently returned from a long-term injury, but has impressed in training in recent weeks and has been regarded by Arsene Wenger as an interesting prospect for some time. The Frenchman described Ansah as “technically perfect” when the striker was just 14 years old.
Another player receiving their maiden call-up to the squad this evening is Swiss centre-back Elton Monteiro. The 18 year old has improved markedly since arriving in North London three years ago, with his first couple of seasons at the club being marred by avoidable errors and haphazard positioning. A good ball-playing defender, Monteiro still has much developing to do in his game, but has established himself as a regular at U21 level and has worked hard to improve his concentration, which was previously one of his major flaws.
Sead Hajrovic, another Swiss youngster, has also made the squad, and is capable of playing in a range of defensive and midfield positions, whilst full-back Martin Angha made his debut against Coventry City in the Capital One Cup earlier this season. Left-back Jernade Meade, meanwhile, is poised for his first start. The diminutive youngster, who began life at Arsenal as a winger, possesses electric speed and impressive positioning.
With little pressure on Arsenal to win given that qualification was ensured in the previous set of fixtures, tonight presents the perfect opportunity to give these budding youngsters the opportunity to impress on the biggest stage possible.