Arsenal U21 coach reveals the secret behind Nwaneri and Cozier-Duberry success this season

While much of the focus will be on the Arsenal men's first team's quest to win a first Premier League title in 20 years this weekend, the Arsenal Under-21s have the chance to do something pretty special too when they host Chelsea in the Premier League 2 play-off quarter-final at Meadow Park.

The revamped competition now means that the top 16 teams at the end of a league season featuring the 26 category one academies in England are put into a series of one off knockout matches. Arsenal overcame Manchester United in the last round with a thrilling 6-2 victory and will be looking to overcome Chelsea and book their place in the semi-finals.

The game is poised to be a closely fought affair. Chelsea's Under-21s finished above Arsenal on goal difference in the regular PL2 season, but the last meeting between the two ended in an exciting 4-2 victory for the Gunners. Under-21s boss Mehmet Ali is expecting a similarly tricky test on Saturday.

“We’re expecting a tough game,” he said. “We’ve obviously done a lot of work on them throughout the week. They’re a good side, they’ve recruited quite a few front half players that will cause any team some problems, but we’re ready for it. We’re looking forward to it and it’s really a good opportunity for our lads to see where we’ve been throughout the season and see if we can improve and get a win against them in a play-off game. I’m looking forward to it but it will be a tough challenge.”

While winning and losing are not necessarily what defines success at this level, progression to the semi-finals would mark an impressive achievement for Arsenal's Under-21s. They are the third youngest team to have played in the PL2 this season, and the youngest average side remaining in the competition.

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To add to that they have also lost key players like Lino Sousa - who left to join Aston Villa in January - and Charles Sagoe Jr, who joined Championship side Swansea on loan. Despite the challenges though, Ali has relished in the opportunity to rebuild his squad and blood through another generation of talent.

"I always say I’m not doing my job properly if we’re holding onto players," he said. "We want them to do well with 21s and then bridge that gap to first team football and we’ve done very well this season at getting players out on loan. I think in January we got another seven players, three on a permanent and four that went out on loan and almost had to re-build again, but that’s the beauty of the job in terms of sticking to your principles, teaching new players coming up with what we want and helping players on their journey."

It is an exciting time all round for the Arsenal academy right now. Highly rated talents like Ethan Nwaneri and Myles Lewis-Skelly have committed their future to the club, while Amario Cozier-Duberry was awarded PL2 player of the month for his performances in April. Ali feels that this is down to the environment the club have been able to create.

"We’ve got some real top young talents but their all round gameplay has improved so much and that’s credit to the PL2 games programme that we’ve had, but also what they’re getting in training with us and getting exposed to the first team on a regular basis as well," he said. "That’s really helped them mature. Our biggest thing is pushing our players individually to help them reach their full potential and that’s what we’re about and that’s what we’ve tried to do this season.”