Arsenal's Under 21s are the latest Academy side to sign up to the Checkatrade Trophy with the 16 invited teams for the 2018/19 campaign confirmed today by the EFL.
The young Gunners side will join Under 21 teams from Premier League rivals Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in next year's competition, which will continue in its current format with the country's leading Category One Academies looking to take on professionals, young and old, from the 48 League One and League Two clubs.
The format is designed to give the country's leading young footballers the opportunity to taste first-team football, while also providing EFL clubs with an opportunity to attract new audiences and additional revenue in a competition that has long provided League One and League Two clubs with a chance of silverware.
Four EFL clubs will have Under 21 sides involved this time around, with Middlesbrough, Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion featuring in the Round One Group Stage draw, which will take place in July, with the first round of fixtures scheduled to take place the week commencing Monday 3rd September.
The invited teams were selected based on their final league position at the end of the 2017/18 season.
The first 16 were invited to take part, and then subsequent teams - with Category One Academy status- invited as required.
The full list of invited Under 21 sides is as follows:
|Brighton & Hove Albion||Southampton|
|Leicester City||Wolverhampton Wanderers|
|Manchester City||West Ham United|
|Middlesbrough||West Bromwich Albion|
EFL Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey, said: "Feedback from all levels of the game is indicating that the competition is starting to reap the benefits that we all envisaged at the outset of the revamp and I'm confident the format will continue to prosper with increasing support from clubs and their fans.
"The Checkatrade Trophy will continue to provide young players, from invited teams and EFL clubs alike, with a unique opportunity to experience first team football and I look forward to seeing the stars of 2018/19 emerge as the competition progresses.
"Last season we had the success of Lincoln City, who stated from the outset that the Checkatrade Trophy is a competition that they wanted to win. I was delighted for the club's fans when they made it to Wembley for the first time in their history.
"Of equal significance will have been the financial return the club achieved from the competition of over £500,000.
"The 48 EFL clubs from League One and Two all received a financial boost from the 2017/18 competition and I am confident the increasing profile, as evidenced once again by the inclusion of yet another of English football's biggest names, will help to encourage more fans to get behind their team in this unique competition format."
Arsenal Academy Manager, Per Mertesacker, said: "We're pleased to be entering our Under 21s in the Checkatrade Trophy this forthcoming season.
"We feel it's important to provide our young players with a variety of experiences in their development and we certainly felt that by entering the Checkatrade Trophy, the players will face different challenges from strong club sides.
"With many of the players in this age group destined to go on loan soon in their careers, the experiences from this competition can act as a very good link between academy and first team football."
Lincoln City Manager, Danny Cowley, said: "For us, the Checkatrade Trophy is a fantastic competition that gives lower league teams as an opportunity to go to Wembley and win something.
"The competition brought about the club's first ever visit to Wembley in our 134 year existence, and we took near on 30,000 people to Wembley for the Final which was a brilliant experience for everyone associated with the football club and will live long in everyone's memory.
"Without a doubt the run to the final and the experience of fans seeing us winning the trophy has played a part already for the upcoming season, as we've seen over the close season so far that season ticket sales have already surpassed what we sold last year."
A number of minor rule changes have been confirmed for the 2018/19 season with EFL clubs now being given the opportunity to name players who are out on loan at National League clubs, whilst invited teams will only be able to name two players who are over the age of U21 and have made more than 40 first team appearances.