Paul Hardyman’s young Saints travel to Arsenal on Saturday looking to overturn a tough start to their U18 Premier League season…
Arsenal U18s vs Saints U18s
Under-18 Premier League
Saturday 15th September, 11:30am BST
Saints will have faced four of the U18 Premier League’s top six come Saturday with an upcoming trip to Arsenal the latest in a tough early season schedule.
This weekend’s opponents sit third in the table after a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea last time out followed 4-2, 2-0 and 7-0 wins over Aston Villa, Brighton and Leicester respectively.
The Gunners - who recently appointed former players Per Mertesacker as Head of Academy and Freddie Ljungberg as U23s coach - pipped Southampton to second place last season and will be expecting to go one better this term.
Ordinarily, a haul of seven goals in their opening four fixtures would be enough to have earned Hardyman’s young charges a foothold at the upper end of the table.
High-scoring defeats to Spurs, West Ham and Chelsea tell a mixed story however: the finer details cost points in all of those games and concentration will be absolutely key for the full 90 minutes against Arsenal.
A flurry of late goals gave the scoreline a harshly one-sided look in favour of Arsenal the last time the two teams met at London Colney in October 2017.
Michael Obafemi scored from the spot to briefly make the scores 2-1 only for the hosts to net three times in the closing stages.
The Gunners completed a league double in April with a 1-0 win at Staplewood Campus.
Coach Paul Hardyman is expecting another tough test this weekend but it is one that his team are fully capable of rising to.
For Hardyman, tightening defensively as a unit all over the field remains the priority. A couple of “mad spells” have blighted recent results, a trend he is keen to see reversed in the coming weeks.
“We’ll have had three big hitters in Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal in our first five games. We’ve been in front in a few of them and let it slip too quickly,” he said.
“We were doing okay at Spurs and West Ham and all of a sudden we conceded two silly goals and then we’re out of the game.
“This is the challenge the boys will have to face if they’re going to be first-team players, there are no easy games in the U18 Premier League.
“It’s a learning curve and we’ve given some first years the opportunity to play which is why we’re here, to progress players through the system. Everyone wants to win games of course but our priority is to see the lads improve.”
“The boys need to be fully focused for 90 minutes of the game. We’ve switched off in transitions and ball watched and it has cost us.
“We have caused every team problems, even against Spurs. They had more of the ball but we created more chances. We will take them in time but the boys know that the defending starts from the front and we need to be better at that end of the field.”