By Richard Joyce
There is one final opportunity for manager Ady Pennock to assess his squad’s credentials ahead of the Vanarama Conference Premier kick-off with a visit from Arsenal U21s on Tuesday (7pm).
The long wait for the new league season is almost over for Rovers and a clash with the Gunners will act as the perfect final run-out before this coming weekend’s trip to Southport.
On Saturday FGR hosted Arsenal’s Premier League rivals Crystal Palace who brought a strong squad to Nailsworth.
England international Fraizer Campbell struck a first half hat-trick to earn the Eagles’ a comfortable win in front of a crowd of 1,086.
After hosting some highly rated top flight talent at the weekend, boss Pennock is relishing the chance to welcome some of Europe’s finest young footballers to The New Lawn on Tuesday.
“We’ve got some of the best under 21players in Europe coming here. But it’s just the name Arsenal coming here that is absolutely fantastic,” he said.
“With this season being our 125th anniversary I think it is very fitting to have a club like Arsenal come here.
“It is a massive thank you to them. We’ll look after them like we do with every single club that come here, be it a Southport or Arsenal we look after them exactly the same way.
“It will be a good occasion for the fans as it was with Palace coming here.”
Places are up for grabs in Pennock’s starting eleven for Saturday’s trip to the Mersey Rail Community Stadium.
The Rovers manager already has a good idea of the majority of the team that he will take to Southport, however Tuesday’s game will offer a number of players an opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the squad.
“There are some players who have worked themselves into the starting eleven for next week and there is an opportunity for the lads who are going to start on Tuesday to do the same,” added Pennock.
“I’ve got a picture in my mind of the team I want to play. But it is not just all about one game.
“There will be disappointed players next Saturday which is what I want. The season is such a hard season and if we can have a cup run that would be fantastic.
“The biggest thing is the league but there is competition so no one is guaranteed their place. I promise you now I am not afraid to put anyone in from that squad.”
Team news Steve Arnold will miss out again although the 24-year-old is making good progress on his return from a knee injury. The goalkeeper spent a year with Arsenal in his youth.
Sam Wedgbury picked up a knock on Saturday against Palace so may not be risked for Tuesday’s game although he is expected to be fit for Saturday’s season opener.
Rob Sinclair has a slight achilles problem but is also expected to be fit for the weekend. Long term absentee Aarran Racine will miss the game.
Opposition The Gunners lifted the FA Cup last season for the first time since 2005 and secured a 4th place finish in the Premier League to secure Champions League qualification for another campaign.
Boss Arsene Wenger has been heavily active in the transfer market this summer. He has attained the services of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona on a deal worth just over £30 million.
Goalkeeper David Ospina, who starred at this summer’s World Cup has also joined while 19-year-old defender Calum Chambers has signed from Southampton for £16 million.
However, on Tuesday evening Steve Gatting’s under 21’s squad, who will compete in the Professional Development League Division Two this coming season, will be travelling to Nailsworth.
The young Gunners squad contains a number of exciting future talents including Sweden under 21 international midfielder Kristoffer Olsson and Jon Toral, formerly with Barcelona.
England youth international Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill is another name to watch as is his defensive team mate Semi Ajayi who has featured in the youth ranks of the Nigerian international set-up.
Tuesday’s opponents have been in action three times in pre-season so far and they have already faced one of the club’s Vanarama Conference Premier rivals.
Their last outing was on Friday night when they drew 2-2 with Boreham Wood. Arsenal’s under 21’s ground share with Vanarama South side Wood.
The Gunners youngsters heading for The New Lawn have also hammered Harrow Borough 5-1 in pre-season so far and also defeated Lincoln City 1-0.
Steve Gatting is expected to oversee the young Arsenal side on Tuesday. He made over 50 appearances for the Gunners first team and appeared over 300 times for Brighton & Hove Albion in his senior playing career.
Gatting comes from a famous sporting family. His brother, Mike, is a former England cricket captain while his son, Joe, currently plays cricket for Hampshire and was previously a professional footballer for Brighton and Woking.