Football has a funny habit of bringing specific teams together on important occasions.
Just over two weeks ago, West Ham United U18s hosted Arsenal U18s at Rush Green Stadium with a place in the FA Youth Cup quarterfinals on the line, but ultimately came out second best on the night in a 3-1 defeat.
A fortnight later, two significant games for the Academy of Football will see a number of those very youth team players – who have featured regularly for the U23s this season – twice take on Arsenal U23s in a Premier League 2 Division 1 double header.
The competition’s unusual scheduling this year will see each team in development football’s top-flight play their final two league fixtures against the same opponent.
For West Ham’s U23s, therefore, two games in six days against Arsenal U23s are set to define their season, with the battle to stay in Division 1 well and truly on.
The young Hammers, currently 12th out of 13 teams, trail the junior Gunners – in tenth – by five points, meaning two wins would see West Ham’s development squad overhaul them.
In between the two sides lie Leicester City U23s, who, one point ahead of West Ham, face a respective double header against Liverpool U23s.
With the Division 1 drop zone encompassing two teams, the Hammers will be going for broke against Arsenal in the next week, aware of the importance of getting points on the board in their season finale.
We have two important games against Arsenal that we need to get points from, but we’ve shown that we can go up against good teams and compete with them
That starts at Meadow Park on Saturday afternoon, with attacking midfielder Kamarai Swyer – who captained the Hammers in that recent FA Youth Cup defeat – one of the youth team players who has also featured regularly for the U23s this season.
The 18-year-old told whufc.com: “We didn’t feel like we did ourselves justice as U18s in the Youth Cup recently against Arsenal, so I definitely think we’d like to put that right.
“I feel like that our last game [a 1-0 defeat to champions Manchester City] epitomised our determination, really.
“We have two important games against Arsenal that we need to get points from, but we’ve shown that we can go up against good teams and compete with them.
“Of course, we want to stay up, but we also know that if we could get wins in both games, we could even push past Arsenal, so that’s what we’ll be looking to do.”
Swyer was making his ninth appearance of the season for West Ham’s U23s in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City, who had days prior been confirmed as runaway league champions.
On that occasion, the Hammers went toe-to-toe with the impressive visitors for long stretches and could consider themselves unfortunate not to have got anything from the game.
Such performances, Swyer reasons, serve as evidence of the young Hammers’ top-flight credentials.
He said: “I think I was just proud of the boys to be honest.
“Manchester City are a good team and I think we went toe-to-toe with them and matched them in everything – in the end we were just unlucky to lose the game.
“We said in the team meeting before the game to be brave, get on the ball, and that nobody should hide. None of the boys did – we were all brave. We tried to do what we could do, we were just unlucky in the end.
“I feel like we’ve been quite an in-form team recently. We didn’t feel afraid again Manchester City – we were just confident that we could match up against them, and that’s what we did, and will try to do again against Arsenal.”
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.