Arsenal boarded their plane today as they headed for Norway, and their fourth Europa League group stage match. Normally that’s not a major newsworthy event, but given the players highlighted as they climbed aboard, there could be a few names to get excited about.
Arsenal’s official Twitter channel caused quite the stir when they posted images showing Emile Smith Rowe and Folarin Balogun climbing aboard. In a follow up post, they added to the buzz with Miguel Azeez dressed in his travel gear and ready to fly.
A win in his away leg over Molde would put Arsenal on 12 points and essentially seal themselves as the Group B winners with 2 matches left to play. Winning the group will have been something that every Arsenal fan expected from the team, but doing it with two games to spare gives Mikel the ability to adjust who he selects for the remaining two games, which offers the opportunity to give normal first team players a well deserved rest at a crucial point in the season.
Arsenal play Wolverhampton Wolves in the Premier League this weekend, then have a midweek Europa League match before the highly anticipated North London Derby against Spurs. Their final group match against Dundalk comes right before the onslaught of holiday games that sees Arsenal play 7 matches between December 13th and January 2nd. Getting some rest where they can could be a huge deal for any Gunners combatting fatigue.
Gaining those three points, and the flexibility, will be the main priority but as an Arsenal fan, their is another opportunity at hand.
I enjoy every Arsenal match to some degree. Maybe that’s not entirely true, there are a few results in my time, against a few specific teams, that I haven’t enjoyed anything about… 8-2, Champions League Final, Baku… really almost any final we have lost. But even on the matches we lose or draw or don’t perform, I tend to enjoy the build up to the match, writing blogs about it, the lineups, the inevitable lineup meltdowns, and of course watching the match. Even on frustrating displays, watching my Arsenal brings a level of enjoyment. A furious, rage-inducing enjoyment some matches…but enjoyment.
But I have to admit, the recent state of things, possibly combined with the state of the world, and being in lockdown has me just a bit flat. A bit bored? Maybe. Certainly unenthused, and the prospect of another Europa League group match is hardly lighting the fire inside me.
Maybe it’s the fact that progression from the group is all but wrapped up officially, and it seems that any success and rhythm we find in the Europa League has yet to transfer over into the Premier League. But the prospect of seeing Emile Smith Rowe play for the first time this season, Folarin Balogun get more minutes, potentially continued minutes for Willock and Nelson who managed to get themselves into a PL squad — even if their performance was a bit lackluster against Leeds — and even the exhilarating, prospective aura that surrounds Miguel Azeez’s play with the academy as a midfielder.
It’s a change of pace. A breath of fresh air. Something that feels different, even if it won’t necessarily transfer to the Premier League. And just maybe, that’s what we need right now as supporters going through a rut with our team causing tensions to rise.
There is something inherently appealing about watching the up and coming youth of your club play. Result aside, it’s a pleasing watch to see them wear their heart on the sleeve and play for the badge within the first team. To assess where they are at, how they mesh with the true first team players, and get a bit excited at the prospect of what they could offer in the near future.
Excitement, interest, intrigue — three things I could use desperately from an Arsenal match at the moment.
I know Mikel often likes to field fairly strong sides within these competitions, and with three points on the line that lead to flexibility in the future, we might not see as much willingness to go bold, but I remain hopeful.
I believe that getting to see them compete on a stage like the Europa League would be a really nice moment for fans to connect with the club right now. And isn’t that why we are all supporters to begin with? The connection we have and want to have with the club?
Stay well, stay hopeful, and keep finding ways to enjoy your Arsenal.