Europe is the word: NextGen series hots up as Arsenal look to make it three English teams in the last four

The competition’s format allows younger players to adapt to different styles of the game on a competitive basis. Senior midfielders Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta wish they had experienced the same.

With no representation in the Champions League quarter-finals, England could still have three clubs battling it out in the last four of another European tournament.

Having not entered the under-19 NextGen Series in its inaugural season last year, Arsenal are now on the brink a semi-final appearance. They face CSKA Moscow tonight at the Emirates in a one-legged quarter-final, with the winners going on to play Chelsea on Friday. In the other semi-final, Sporting Lisbon face Aston Villa, with the final a week today. Both semi-final’s and the final will be played in Lake Como, Italy.

The tournament’s momentum has been astounding. More than 6,500 tickets have already been sold for tonight’s game and the quality of football so far has been testament to the idea. That idea was to create Champions League players at the youngest possible age, playing in front of bigger crowds against the very best academies in Europe.

Created by TV producer Justin Andrews and Brentford sporting director Mark Warburton, it is no surprise that seven of the 24 clubs invited to play in this year’s tournament were British. But with Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus included this year, among others, the rest of Europe is waking up to the idea. There is still room for the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, but the positives gained from another successful tournament should deal with that.

Terry Burton’s Arsenal dispatched last year’s winners Inter Milan earlier in the month to reach the last eight, but the competition has thrown up all manner of obstacles since their first game nearly seven months ago. They have travelled to Greece, France, Spain and Italy, testing their development against a range of footballing styles. The wonder of the tournament allows these youngsters to adapt their technique to European football, not just the English game.

“They have learnt that you have to be able to adapt,” Burton told Arsenal.com. “They have found that football intelligence is not always about playing the game in a certain way but about being able to adapt to play in a certain way.

“Most of the time we have done that well. The players have come up against some quality teams, and hopefully one of the things they have got out of it has been to learn the different ways that teams can hurt you if you don't do things right.”

These opportunities have not always been put on a plate for English side’s top academy players. The new format has attracted the crowds and the media interest, something younger players never dealt with in the old Premier League reserve league. It is perhaps concerning to some that teenage footballers in this day and age must be taught to adapt to the limelight as early as possible. Nevertheless, with football what it is in 2013, Arsenal stalwarts Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta agree that a slight dip in the deep end can only be beneficial.

"I would definitely have liked to play in the NextGen Series," Diaby said. "When I was younger we always used to talk about this kind of competition, to play all over Europe against big teams.

"That was a real dream but unfortunately at that time it didn't happen. But I think it is really good for the youth players, it is great experience for them. At a young age they can feel the atmosphere of playing in the European Cup, so that will really help them."

Arteta, now one of most experienced players at the club, believes playing at a stadium like the Emirates is part of the development. Burton’s side usually play their home games at Barnet’s Underhill stadium, but tonight will perform at the 60,000-seater arena they will hope to call home sooner rather than later.

“If they can get a good crowd and people are supportive of the young lads, for them it's going to be a very good experience,” the Spaniard said.

“In a competition like that, they can see how good they are compared to the other teams in Europe. I think it's a very good point to see where they are.

“We've got some good players coming up. I don't want to say any names because you underestimate the others maybe. In my head, there are three or four players that will become very important players for this club."

With talents German Serge Gnabry and London-born Chuba Akpom on their side, the future is bright for Arsenal when looking past the circus of first team inconsistencies.

The pair are a breath of fresh air and have lit up the tournament. They will no doubt soon be featuring in the Champions League to ensure that the absence of British clubs in the latter stages was a one-off. For the spectators of the NextGen Series, being able to say you watched these prospects develop on their first European stage is all part of the attraction.

Arsenal face CSKA Moscow in the NextGen Series quarter-final tonight at the Emirates Stadium, 7pm kick off. Tickets are priced £4 adults and £2 children. Visit www.eticketing.co.uk/arsenal or call 0207 619 5000.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc