Arsenal accept EFL Trophy invitation after two years of rejecting offer

Arsenal have accepted an invite to participate in the EFL Trophy, where their Under-21 side will be joined by a quartet of London’s other Premier League clubs.
The Gunners had declined an invite in each of the past two seasons but Standard Sport understands discussions over the value of the competition, which pits side from Leagues One and Two against top flight academies, have been ongoing throughout that period.
Academy manager Per Mertesacker, who has inherited a youth side that won the Premier League 2 title at U23 level and whose U18s reached the FA Youth Cup Final, has opted to greenlight Arsenal’s participation this season and said: “We feel it’s important to provide our young players with a variety of experiences in their development and we certainly felt that by entering the EFL Trophy, the players will face different challenges from strong club sides.
“With many of the players in this age group destined to go on loan soon in their careers, the experiences from this competition can act as a very good link between academy and first-team football.”
U21 sides in EFL Trophy
Arsenal, Brighton, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Leicester, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Southampton, Stoke, Swansea, Tottenham, West Brom, West Ham, Wolverhampton Wanderers
It is not expected that any of Arsenal’s home games throughout the competition will take place at the Emirates Stadium, with Boreham Wood a likely option for the Gunners. Premier League academies play all of their group stage matches in the competition away from home but can be drawn as hosts in the latter stages.
Holders Lincoln defeated Chelsea U21s in the semi-final last season before defeating Shrewsbury Town in front of 41,000 at Wembley in April.
Lincoln boss Danny Cowley said: “The competition brought about the club’s first ever visit to Wembley in our 134-year existence, and we took near on 30,000 people to Wembley for the final which was a brilliant experience for everyone associated with the football club and will live long in everyone’s memory.”
The competition had initially been greeted with much scepticism, particularly for its decision to parachute in youth sides, but EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey says the message from clubs is increasingly optimistic.
“The Checkatrade Trophy will continue to provide young players, from invited teams and EFL clubs alike, with a unique opportunity to experience first-team football and I look forward to seeing the stars of 2018/19 emerge as the competition progresses,” Harvey added.
“The 48 EFL clubs from League One and Two all received a financial boost from the 2017/18 competition and I am confident the increasing profile, as evidenced once again by the inclusion of yet another of English football’s biggest names, will help to encourage more fans to get behind their team in this unique competition format.”
The group stage of the 2018-19 competition with be drawn in July, with the first round of group stage games scheduled for the week commencing September 3.

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