Details of a new U21 cup competition have been announced today, which Arsenal will participate in. Involving 51 academies, it will compliment the U21 Premier League, which proved a great success in its first season.
Arsenal will go straight in to the Round of 32, as will all 19 sides in category A. Qualifiers will take place for category C and B teams. The draw for the first round of these will take place on September 9 and the 13 sides that get through the qualifiers will join the 19 elite teams in the Round of 32.
All fixtures will be one-off, knock-out games, and up until the Round of 16, they will be organised by regions. The final of the competition will be a two-leg affair, with each leg being played at the main stadia of the participating teams. This will be a great opportunity for the fans to watch their youngsters in action, and it will also be a valuable experience for the players, with large crowds expected.
"The introduction of an under-21 cup competition is one way to create an opportunity for players up and down the country to play in a meaningful competition, to enhance the Barclays Under-21 Premier League," Ged Roddy, Premier League's Director of Youth (via www.premierleague.com)The issues surrounding the lack of academy players making the step up to first-team football are at the heart of this new competition, with the Premier League hoping it will ensure a "smoother transition".
The competition will be especially beneficial to academies of smaller clubs, as they will get the opportunity to face the cream of the crop, so to speak. For example, Arsenal's U21 side could be drawn against AFC Wimbledon. The table below shows every side from each category in the Southern part of the competition. As aforementioned, fixtures are played on a regional basis up until the Round of 16, where the Northern clubs will enter the fray.
Match dates that concern Arsenal are as followed *Ties will be played within two weeks of proposed dates*:
Round of 32: Week beginning 18th November 2013
Round of 16: Week beginning 16th December 2013
Quarter Finals: Week beginning 27th January 2014
Semi Finals: Week beginning 22nd February 2014
Final: Week beginning 17th March 2014
With the U21 Premier League, the U19 UEFA Champions League (which has effectively replaced the NextGen Series), the FA Youth Cup, and now this competition, our Young Guns certainly have a busy schedule ahead of them.