Arsenal u23s take on Everton at the Emirates Stadium on Friday, on the back of two straight wins in their opening Premier League 2 matches.
Arsenal finished as runners-up to Everton in the Premier League 2 last season, after the Gunners won the title themselves a year earlier. As a result, this anticipated clash was selected to be played at the Emirates Stadium on Friday at 19:00 BST.
The two teams have had very different starts to the season. Whilst Arsenal’s two victories over Brighton and Blackburn have been full of goals and late drama, Everton have played out two 0-0 draws against Wolves and Leicester.
Clearly, Arsenal are going to have their work cut out putting the first goal of the season past Everton’s backline. On the Gunners’ defensive end, Rob Holding is expected to start and play the full match, as he continues his recovery from injury.
Tickets are still available to attend the match at the Emirates, and it’s fairly likely there will also be a stream on Arsenal Player, as that’s usually the case for matches at the club’s main ground.
Let’s have a look at our predicted team for the match.
Predicted Lineup (4-3-3)
James Hillson appears to be the first-choice goalkeeper whilst Arthur Okonkwo is out with injury, so he should keep his place.
Tom Smith has joined Salisbury Town on loan, but that hasn’t stopped him making the bench for the Arsenal u23s so far, so it will be interesting to see if he does again on Friday. If not, Karl Hein can step up as a backup.
Rob Holding played 64 minutes last Monday, and reports suggest he’ll start this one to play the full 90.
Zech Medley has missed the last couple of games with an injury, attending the Brighton match at Boreham Wood in the stands.
As a result, Harry Clarke and Joseph Olowu are options for the second centre-back position. Clarke got the nod alongside Holding against Blackburn, but Olowu was one of Arsenal’s standout performers against Brighton. It really is a 50/50 call, but we’ll go with Olowu on form.
Tolaji Bola and Zak Swanson are likely to keep their places in the full-back positions, with few alternatives available.
Smith Rowe played 63 minutes and scored against Brighton last week, and he’s likely to join Holding in continuing to build his fitness with the u23s. Friday’s captain Robbie Burton will join him in midfield, with Tyreece John-Jules likely to complete the three.
Although John-Jules has mostly played as a centre-forward in his career so far, he’s finding a lot of joy dropping a bit deeper with Eddie Nketiah (in pre-season) or Folarin Balogun ahead of him.
Matt Smith, James Olayinka and Jordan McEneff are the alternative options in midfield. Any of them could step in if Smith Rowe isn’t taking part in the match for whatever reason, given it’s hard to predict Arsenal’s exact recovery plan for the 19-year-old.
Ben Cottrell continues to impress with the u18s, scoring twice against Aston Villa last weekend after making a six-minute substitute appearance for the u23s a day earlier.
With Arsenal’s midfield options bloated by Smith Rowe and John-Jules, Cottrell will probably be saved for the u18 game against West Ham on Saturday.
Saka has been involved with the first-team for the last couple of matches, but with the return of Özil and Xhaka to the senior squad, as well as Gabriel Martinelli’s recent performances, it’s unlikely there will be space for the 17-year-old against Liverpool.
As a result, Saka can drop down to the u23s for this one. Folarin Balogun will certainly start, after three goals and an assist in his first two games of the season.
Nathan Tormey and Trae Coyle will fight it out over the third spot. Tormey probably edges the battle given he’s been playing on the right so far (Saka plays on the left), and he also scored against Brighton.
Hillson; Swanson, Olowu, Holding, Bola; Burton, Smith Rowe, John-Jules; Saka, Balogun, Tormey.