Dmitri Halajko: West Ham U23s ready for Arsenal double header
West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko believes his young players are reaching optimal form at just the right time of the season.
In an unusual scheduling quirk of Premier League 2 Division 1 this season, each side will play their final two league fixtures as double-headers against another.
The twelfth-placed Hammers are therefore set to conclude their season by twice taking on tenth-placed Arsenal; first at Meadow Park on Saturday afternoon, before welcoming the Gunners back to Rush Green Stadium the following Friday evening.
They do so in the knowledge that wins in both games would actually see them overtake Arsenal in the Premier League 2 table, securing their place in Division 1 for next season in the process.
West Ham can also secure their Division 1 status by overtaking Leicester City U23s in their final two games, with the Foxes – ahead by one point – facing back-to-back matches against mid-table Liverpool.
With all to play for going heading into the season's climax, therefore, Halajko has challenged his players to sustain the kind of performances which have yielded to eleven points, and just one defeat, from their last six Premier League 2 matches.
“It will be two games in quick succession against the same opposition, so we’ll be able to learn from our first game pretty quickly,” Halajko told whufc.com. “That’s probably an advantage.
“Arsenal are in and around the same kind of area in the table as us, so I expect them both to be good games.
“They have always got good teams with good players, so we know that it’ll be tough, but I think it’ll be good to have two games where we think we can really go and get something out of it.
“The season for us feels like it’s ending a bit too quickly, because we’re in good form and we’ve been getting better and better as the season goes on.
“We’ve got five or six youth teamers in and around our squad, and they’re really getting to grips with the level now – that’s showing. Our experienced players are getting chances to dominate the game.
“With the way we're playing, we don’t really want this season to end now, so we’re really looking forward to the last two games.”
Arsenal’s U23s are managed by fans’ favourite Steve Bould, and have struggled for the second half of their 2020/21 season having picked up just a sole victory in their last ten games.
We’ve got good enough players to compete at this level without a shadow of a doubt. We’ll continue to make sure that we do everything we can to make that happen
Nevertheless, when West Ham’s U18s met Arsenal’s U18s in the FA Youth Cup earlier this month, it was the Gunners who ran out 3-1 winners on that occasion.
The U23 Hammers’ most recent outing, meanwhile, was a narrow 1-0 defeat to confirmed champions Manchester City at Rush Green Stadium a week ago.
Despite coming up against the runaway league leaders in menacing form, however, Halajko’s young charges rose to the occasion and went toe-to-toe with them for significant stretches, ultimately considering themselves unlucky not to have gained a point.
Having recently defeated the likes of Manchester United, Everton and Leicester City in their late-season surge, such a performance added to accumulating evidence that the young Hammers deserve to play at Premier League 2 Division 1 level.
“Very much so,” Halajko confirmed. “We’ve got good enough players to compete at this level without a shadow of a doubt.
“We’ll continue to make sure that we do everything we can to make that happen.”
West Ham United U23s take on Arsenal U23s on Saturday 1 May in a behind-closed-doors fixture. Kick-off is at 3pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from 2.30pm.
Please note that Academy fixtures will be played behind closed doors until further notice. Only key personnel will be admitted on site and the match will be played without supporters present, in line with safety guidelines and social distancing measures in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.