Southampton will head into their Barclays Under-18 Premier League play-off clash with Arsenal on Saturday highly motivated, says midfielder Stuart Wilkin.
Anthony Limbrick’s side currently sit fifth in the Group Three table, three places and three points ahead of the Gunners, who are bottom.
And, whilst Wilkin knows it will be far from easy at their Shenley training base, he says Saints will certainly be up for the battle.
“I think everyone in the team gets up for games like this,” he told Southampton’s official YouTube channel. “Obviously we’ve got a couple of boys – Harley (Willard) and Fela (Olomola) – who came from Arsenal into our team, so we really do want to win for them.
“Arsenal are a very good side. We’ve played Arsenal quite a few times in the season, they’re always physical and they always look to play against us like a similar type of football, so obviously it will be a test on the weekend and a must-win, really.
“This weekend, same as every other weekend, we look to build on our last performance and build into this weekend in training, preparing for the games.”
It’s a sentiment Limbrick agrees with, as the Under-18 coach highlighted the strengths he believes Frans De Kat’s side will exhibit on Saturday.
“We’ve played well against them twice, and they’re a very quick and pacy, physical team, good on the counter attack, and have got some really good individuals, so it’ll be interesting to see one, how we defend against that and two, how hopefully we can exploit that if they push on and try and attack us, which I’m sure they will,” he said.
“We had a really tough game there at the start of the season where we drew 0-0, with plenty of chances from both teams really, but that sort of set us up for a run of games after that where we had some really good performances, so that was our first real good team performance of the season.
“Then when we played them at home, after a couple of tough FA Youth Cup games, we beat them 1-0 at our place, so that was a really positive performance as well.”
In both of the teams’ two meeting this season, Saints have managed to keep a clean sheet – something Limbrick is hoping his youngsters can repeat in the capital.
And he also insisted that there is still a great deal for his charges to play for this season, with places up for grabs for the beginning of the next campaign.
“When they’ve got a lot of attacking talent, I think to keep a clean sheet against them is a real positive, so we’ll take that into the game and, like every week, we always set out to try and keep a clean sheet up until half time and then the end of the game, so that’ll be our goal as normal anyway,” he said.
“Every game, every training session there’s something for the players to play for, to set their standards, to leave good thoughts in the coach’s mind about next season and to gain as much experience as they can.
“I think every game is so important for these young players and their development in order to push on, whether it’s training, it’s matches, whether it’s time in the gym or anywhere round the training ground, but especially the games are going to be really important for them moving on.”
Wilkin is one such player who admits he’s got one eye on establishing himself in the side next season.
Deployed in the number 10 role of late, his campaign has been disrupted by an unfortunate arm injury, but he’s now enjoying being back in the fold.
“I find it a good experience after injury, getting more game time towards the end of the season, getting a lot of starts under my belt. Obviously we’re looking to win every game and get as high in the play-offs as we can,” he said.
“It’s frustrating to have a weird injury like my wrist, and to miss quite a lot of the games, but then it’s good for me to get in games towards the end of the season leading into next season, and hopefully (I'll) be a big influence on the Under-18s next season.”