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Arsenal (A) Sun 1 Mar 2015, 14:05, Barclays Premier League


Kevin Sheedy is challenging his scholars to prove they can mix it with the country's best during the second half of the season.
The Under-18s return to competitive action this Saturday, entertaining Reading at Finch Farm in their opening fixture of their Elite Group campaign.
A third place finish in National Group One at the end of 2012 was enough to see the young Blues qualify for the top tier in the second phase.
Along with the Royals, Sheedy's Under-18s will also play Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Manchester United, Reading and Southampton both home and away in a round-robin format - all teams that secured top-three berths in their respective leagues.
"We are going to be playing against the best teams and we want to match them," the former Republic of Ireland winger told evertontv.
"We had a warm-up game against Swindon last Saturday and we gave all the players a fair amount of time just to try and get them back up to speed.
"We start with our first home game on Saturday against Reading who topped our league [last year] and were the best team in it.
"It’s a tough opening fixture but over the two matches we drew 0-0 and lost 1-0 in a game that could have gone either way. We are hoping for a change of fortune but we know it will be a difficult test."
The Under-18s were last in action a month ago when they beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Youth Cup. Prior to that, their previous league outing - a 1-0 home victory against Norwich - was on December 1.
"From the academy point of view, I think we have had too much time off," Sheedy added when asked for his take on the academy winter break.
"We should mirror what the first team do because ultimately if these players are going to become professionals they have got to be used to playing over the festive period when there are a lot of games in a short period of time.
"They have got to get used to recovering from games so it’s part of their education that we need to do better at.
After the month-long lay-off, the Under-18s are now thrust straight into a busy schedule.
This coming Tuesday evening they travel to Vale Park to play their FA Youth Cup fourth round tie, although Sheedy says that attention will be turned towards that game once three points have hopefully been earned against Reading.
He added: "We overcame a very difficult game against Southampton in our first tie and it will be equally as tough, if not tougher, against Port Vale.
"They went to Crystal Palace, who are a very good team and had also qualified for the elite group, and won 2-0 on their home patch. We have had them watched and again we are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
"But first we are fully focusing on the game on Saturday because we want to get off to a winning start. We want to beat Reading and we will do our best to do that. Once that game is out of the way then we can concentrate on the next one."

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