Every season reaches a point where there are only a few games left to play in the league, team’s safety or relegation fates are locked in, and there is a feeling of formality to final games. But in every season there are also going to be a few teams in the thick of it all until the very end. If you’re lucky, it’s in a race for the top 4 or a title. If you’re unlucky, you’re watching your team claw tooth and nail to escape being relagated.
Another season’s end is approaching, but this year, Arsenal seem stuck at a crossroads with games that could matter very much. Qualifying for the Europa league is crucial. Despite what many may be saying about Arteta’s ability to train the team with a less compact schedule, should they fail, is a message I can’t get behind. We have heard Arteta talk about their three transfer scenarios including one that involves “nothing”, we have openly discussed the fact that this team is in desperate need of an overhaul, and so I question whether Arteta having extra time at London Colney would actually achieve what people claim it would.
Why? Because I have fears it would see him training almost this exact same squad without any form of overhaul of injection of quality. The results he’s been getting with the squad he was handed in December show signs of a promising future under his guidance, but there are areas that need work and there are positions that need outright improvement. Who would Arteta be training with all this extra time? More time with Luiz, Kolasinac, and Ozil? Extra time with Willock, Smith-Rowe, and youth?
I don’t deny that the second list are people what would benefit from extra time with the Arteta, but the idea of throwing out a lineup filled completely with youth for 38 Premier League matches, isn’t a line up I can see putting us back into European contention next year either.
Yesterday, Arteta put out a pretty direct statement for the club to feel uncomfortable with the idea of not investing, even if Arsenal don’t manage qualifications, while doubling down on the importance of qualifying for the Europa League. After all, who are Arsenal to turn up their nose at the chance for an extra £30m at a time when that amount can extend pretty far?
It’s not an easy path to Europe anymore and the hole Arsenal have dug themselves is a daunting one to climb out of quickly. The result at the weekend against Spurs makes it even tougher and the games keep coming. With what will be 10 games in the first month since the restart, legs will begin to feel very heavy and fatigue will have set in meaning Arteta has to pick and choose what games to really go after and which risks to take, to offer rest to stars.
Will Arteta look to chase the Premier League’s 7th place spot with Arsenal 4 points back of Sheffield United and 2 points back of Tottenham by putting out his best against Liverpool or does he turn his attentions to Saturday when Arsenal travel to Wembley for the chance to get to a final, win an FA Cup, and qualify through that route?
Liverpool has little to nothing to play for in their season and have had some suspect results of late making that a tempting route, but Arsenal would still need a fair amount of help from multiple teams.
Manchester City still have a lot to play for with the chance at an FA Cup, the Champions League at the end of the season, and the reinvigorated feeling of not having a European ban to serve. On top of that, if Arsenal did manage to win they would have a date in the finals with either Chelsea or Manchester United – another tough task.
Does Arteta chase the cup and put his faith in his own players to take control of their own future, even if the route feels a little more daunting or does he look to his strongest lineup tonight against Liverpool to put pressure on the Sheffield United and Tottenham to not slip in the finals days? The feeling I get is that putting out a top lineup in both today’s match with Liverpool and at the weekend, without rotation, is something that can’t be expected of these players’ bodies.
Personally, I would look to rotate tonight versus Liverpool and try our best to get a result. That doesn’t need to mean putting out a weak lineup, but it would mean putting in some players who have not played lately. Rob Holding, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, maybe some Pepe time depending on how he is doing after playing roughly 60 minutes this weekend, Cedric Soares, and Bukayo Saka, but may mean sacrificing Xhaka, Ceballos, Aubameyang and others.
Put the burden on Arsenal’s shoulders to take control of the fate that is completely in their control by winning at the weekend, even if Arsenal have struggled to get results against both of these teams in the past.
We will see what we can draw from Arteta’s selection later today!