It’s a fixture which is keenly anticipated regardless of the level at which it’s played.
Chelsea vs Arsenal conjures up all manner of memories from down the years – we’ll leave you to reminisce about your own – and the coming thirteen days could add fresh moments to savour.
Granted, the fixtures come at youth level, where the two clubs will go head to head three times in that spell, but that’s no reason to think that it won’t be worth watching.
The first clash comes this Thursday in the FA Youth Cup Fourth Round, with Chelsea seeking to retain the trophy they won back in April of last year.
Attention then turns to the FA Premier Academy League, where a swift double-header of action at each team’s respective training grounds will go some way to determining who may emerge atop Group C this season.
The triple header will be an intriguing set of fixtures, sure to be contested almost as much off the pitch as it is on it. Arsenal fans are well known for their outspoken confidence in their youngsters, whilst Chelsea followers have started to follow suit in slightly lesser numbers in recent years.
The Gunners go in as favourites to emerge victorious on each occasion. Despite suffering an astounding 10-1 mauling at Aston Villa in the reserve league last week, they sit at the top of the table with a game in hand – although Chelsea will join them if they win their own games in hand.
A strong Youth Cup squad with impressive depth will go a long way towards seeing them progress deep into this year’s competition, but the Blues will not concede their crown so easily and showed their battling spirit with a hard-fought 2-0 win away to Sunderland in Round Three last Thursday.
Goals from Nathaniel Chalobah and George Saville saw off the Black Cats, who threatened on a number of occasions through former Blue Billy Knott, but a strong defensive rearguard held out and Dermot Drummy’s boys found the cutting edge in the second half.
Drummy is unlikely to make many changes to his team in the space of a week, largely because his options are limited. Deprived of Philipp Prosenik, Rohan Ince, Mesca, James Ashton, Reece Loudon and Amin Affane through injury, numbers are scarce. Schoolboy Adam Nditi featured as a substitute against Sunderland, but academy staff are reluctant to use them unless necessary in this competition.
The former Arsenal youth coach does have a potential ace up his sleeve though, in the form of Josh McEachran. The seventeen year-old was part of last season’s winning team and is eligible to play again this time around, but first team commitments have thus far meant a premature goodbye to academy football.
Nonetheless, with John Obi Mikel’s return to fitness and no match until Monday night in Bolton, it has been decided that the England Under-21 midfielder will feature from the start.
The team consequently takes on a much more creative look, with a more stable transition from defence into attack, and the very real threat of a pass in behind the defence – a style the youngsters have been forced to adopt without the bigger Prosenik to use as a focal point.
Against Sunderland, Drummy started with Billy Clifford at right back, with Chalobah in midfield, but changed things around in the second half, dropping the schoolboy into the centre of defence, and pushing Clifford into midfield with Ben Sampayo slotting into the vacated right back spot. He will once again be forced to decide where to play Clifford, a decision which may result in a different approach now McEachran is confirmed as playing.
Clifford is arguably the most potent attacking threat in this year’s team and his experience and growing maturity must be harnessed to its fullest for the Blues to progress further into the competition.
Whilst Chelsea piece together a team from what’s available, Steve Bould has the luxury of a larger squad from which to select his team. The club took on some nineteen first-year scholars in July, all of whom can play, along with a strong group of second year players eager to make amends for a disappointingly early exit a year ago.
They reached this stage with a 6-1 demolition of Darlington in Round Three, Chuks Aneke leading the way with a hat-trick. Benik Afobe grabbed a brace and Ghanaian defender Daniel Boateng rounded off the scoring.
Prolific forward Afobe is currently suffering from a knee injury picked up whilst on loan at Huddersfield, and his availability is uncertain. However, Bould will be able to call upon a multi-national team prized from around the globe, in a similar fashion to the Blues side which won last season.
Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has impressed since signing for the club in the autumn and was in fine form at Cobham in the only meeting between the two teams to date this campaign.
Dutchmen Oguzhan Ozyakup and Kyle Ebecilio – the cousin of Jeffrey Bruma who almost signed for Chelsea in the summer – will marshall the midfield whilst Spanish centre-back Ignasi Miquel will likely drop back down from the first team bench to partner Boateng in the heart of the defence.
Aneke, a polarising player of fine skill but questionable attitude, will be a potent threat in the final third, whilst if Afobe doesn’t make it, Nigel Neita, Phillip Roberts and Jeffrey Monakana will all have hopes of being involved, as will Alban Bunjaku.
Indeed, Bunjaku was one of three goalscorers at Cobham when Bould’s side came away with a 3-0 win in October. Ebecilio opened the scoring, with Josh Rees rounding it off late on in a match which was closer than the final scoreline appeared.
Chelsea had a strong first half and tested Martinez on a number of occasions, but Arsenal came on stronger as the game went on and against a team which featured five schoolboys, their strength and fitness allowed them to forge an advantage they never reliquished.
They are likely to be in for a sterner test at Stamford Bridge, in front of a decent crowd on Thursday night, but a similar match pattern and outcome would not be surprising in the slightest.
The reserve league outings, on the other hand, may be a lot closer. Both teams have a number of players out on loan affecting the stability of their squads, but Chelsea have been in impressive nick so far this campaign and have picked up good wins against Newcastle, Liverpool, West Brom and West Ham.
The majority of the Youth Cup side will be involved under Steve Holland’s tutelage, but they will also be able to include Conor Clifford, Jacob Mellis, Gokhan Tore, Jacopo Sala, Adam Phillip and fringe first teamers McEachran, Kakuta, Bruma, van Aanholt and Sturridge – all loan moves permitting, of course.
On the other side of the coin, Neil Banfield’s second string at London Colney have been forced to blood inexperienced players in the vein of Elton Monteiro and Nico Yennaris, although they do possess football league experience in Gilles Sunu, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Luke Freeman and Craig Eastmond.
The avalanche of goals conceded against Aston Villa should be treated as an anomaly, for a first-half red card and a reshuffling of an inexperienced pack saw heads drop against a strong team featuring a number of players with Premier League experience.
The trifecta of clashes promises to be entertaining and tense, with good football a guarantee and incident certain to cause debate. You can keep up with everything as it happens here on TheChels.net, and throughout each match with live updates on Twitter @chelseayouth.