So, as Thursday approaches in what seems our most important game of the season so far we are left wondering what next based on the outcome from that game? Will an awkward reunion with Unai Emery be on the cards or will there be a need for the whole world to gobble us up as we struggle to come to terms with another failure in the Europa league? A competition we can admittedly say is below the level we aspire to be at but at same time haven’t managed to lift that trophy in the few years we have been competitors in.
Let’s take a look hypothetically at god forbid if we do crash out on the competition this week. What happens next? What do we want to see for the rest of our rollercoaster of a season?
It’s hard not to notice the grumbles of disapproval of Mikel Arteta growing louder and louder in recent months across social media. Whether I agree with it or not a lot of fans are not in his corner right now and every result, every passage of play, every team line-up, every decision off the pitch is micro analysed to the point Arteta cannot win (even when he wins!). A firing in my opinion is too easy a cop out at this stage, yes the season on reflection has been terrible but expectations have to be aligned. We signed up for a long term project with a lot of bumps along the way not a ‘We should be challenging Man City to the very end in his first full season in charge’ expectation. Not even the current champions are sitting in a Champion’s League spot right now. Anyway let’s park the Arteta Out debate for now and just consider what do we do next?
Ditch the personnel not in future plans
Now with Europa League success off the table, there’s a debate to be had on whether to go all out to qualify for next seasons instalment of the competition. The true question to ask is should Mikel at this stage with not much on the table to chase; persevere with the players he may not wholeheartedly believe in and/or those he does have faith in but just let him down. Mindset could be switched to next season and those players he wants to keep. Before the season is done it may be an idea to just swing the hatchet now and give minutes and opportunities to those he sees a future in.
I don’t know what goes through Arteta’s mind, it may not simply be a case of those players he picks are the ones he believes in. Is Lacazette seen as part of the future? Has Xhaka been a heavy fixture in midfield not because of his faith from the manager but more so because all other alternative options were worse? Was the choice to sell Martinez and keep Leno agreed by the manager or was rank pulled by higher up to make some money for other transfers? Does Willian have something mandated in his contract to ensure he played? There are many more questions that could be put out there, only one man knows the answer to those questions and that is the manager. What would be nice to see is Mikel being given the freedom of choice to start building with immediate effect and no longer pander to any pressures to play anyone through higher intervention or contract clauses because there’s effectively nothing left to win.
Give the kids minutes
So with that in mind if Mikel was given the freedom to look to next season and with nothing to lose why not blood the kids he sees with big potential to contribute next season. One of the more obvious names to mention is Folarin Balogun, if the rumours that came out the tail end of last week are true that the young prospect is about to put pen to paper on a new contract and commit long term to the Gunners then what is there to lose to play him in all the remaining games. He has been highly talked up by everyone at the cub and it was only the uncertainty of his contract situation that left some negativity hanging over him. When he has played he has excited and offered something different to what we currently have. It would be great to see him get some valuable minutes and Premiership experience in preparation for next season.
In addition to Balogun the youngster closest to first team action is Miguel Azeez, also very highly rated; he made his first team debut this season and looked impressive in his little cameo. Get him in the midfield from now for some valuable experience, there really is nothing to lose from this and we have a very talented player who could well be our next star off the production line.
Third person I would consider is Joel Lopez, he made the bench in our last Europa League game and although the initial feedback that I’ve read on him is massive ceiling of potential but not first team ready just yet. I can understand with everything to play for chucking him in may have come at a risk but with that side of pressure now off, playing Premiership minutes would be invaluable and actually accelerate his development. It’s no secret we have a problem with cover for left back now that Kieran Tierney is broken so why not play a specialist left back coming through the ranks for rest of season? He may take to it like a duck to water.
You do question how accurate our judgement is on whether players are ready or not and I always like to look at the varying fortunes of our own William Saliba and Wesley Fofana at Leicester. Both very young exciting talents and both starred in the same Saint Etienne team before making big moves to Premiership clubs. One wasn’t deemed ready and shipped out on loan back to France whilst the other was shown some faith and is now considered one of the best young defenders in the league. You just need to look at the league table to see an 11 point difference between the clubs and question who has had more reason to be cautious about impact on their ambitions. It’s a slightly unfair comparison from me as other personal factors did play a part but I do believe we have a talent on our hands who could have at a minimum got minutes in Carabao cup games at expense of maybe Mustafi who clearly wasn’t deemed part of the future.
Provide a last chance to those in last chance saloon
Doesn’t take a genius to work out something has gone terribly wrong between Mikel Arteta and Reiss Nelson. Whether it was a disciplinary decision or something else the young winger has really dropped off the first team scene for past few months only making a few recent squad appearances probably more determined by an injury crisis than merit. The young winger in the early days under Mikel looked like he could potentially be taken under his wing and was being managed carefully for a bigger plan. Not helped by the exponential rise of the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, it seems the development of Nelson has gone stagnant. We know there’s ability in his feet but the chances just haven’t been taken as well as he would have liked or in comparison to the other youngsters I mentioned earlier. However with nothing to lose why not let him play and prove right whatever wrongs that are believed to be there?
Similar scenario applies to Eddie Nketiah, despite getting some minutes at the early part of the season, the performances on a whole were a mixed bag. Unfortunately for the modern day striker taking chances isn’t deemed enough and fans (and possibly the manager) want more all round contributions to the team play. Eddie has suffered from not impacting the game much when he isn’t on the end of chances however despite his absence from first team action he captained England in the recent U21 Euros group games. On one hand it’s great that the manager showed enough faith in him to make him captain, he holds the record for most England goals at that level but unfortunately his impact in those three group games were minimal to say the least. Not helped by a lack of action for his club which clearly upset his fluidity and momentum leading to quite a bit of rust. So why not give him a run in the team to the end of the season. If it is last chance saloon lets give him get a chance to take that chance.
I was going to touch on maybe selection of a new captain but honestly I struggle to see many worthy candidates from the available players we have that are shoe ins for the honour next season. With that in mind I will leave that discussion for another time but for now let’s just hope everything I discussed doesn’t need to be discussed come full time on Thursday. We still have it all to play for and I hope Friday morning we will be having a conversation about the return of Emery.
This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.