Yesterday Arsenal confirmed their squad list for the Europa League and whilst mostly we can determine who would be on that list, there were one or two surprises in there, some of which I think are worth talking about today.
And they’re worth talking about because of how Emery might approach the competition this year. It’s our third in the Europa League and with the manager having just a year left on his deal, the Powers That Be at Arsenal have already publicly been clear about what the target is. I think it’s obvious that it’s Champions League or Bust for Unai but that gives him some pondering to do in these early stages of this particular competition.
Last season Emery went with a senior team who picked up maximum points and so he could rotate a little in the latter part of the group stages. He then swapped things around when we got to quarters, semis and the final but ultimately we fell short, which has left us all lamenting why he didn’t put more emphasis on the league right at the business end.
I suspect it might be a case of “once bitten, twice shy” for Emery this season and I think he’ll be looking very closely at the balance of the team compared to last season. And I think the hint in that is the inclusion of players like Mavropanos and Joel Lopez. Lopez is a left back that, I’ll be honest, needed a little bit of Googling from yours truly here and given that very fact I think it’s a wee hint that the Europa League team might be heavily rotated from the start this season.
The thing is though, much like the season before last when Wenger had his first soiree into the Europa League for decades, I wonder if Emery will undertake some heavy rotation to give more players games. If you look at that squad you could probably pick and XI for the weekend and then one for midweek right now. Emi Martinez in goal; a back four of Calum Chambers, Mustafi, Mavropanos and Lopez, a midfield of Willock, Torreira and Özil further forward, followed by a front three of Nelson, Martinelli and Saka or, if you need it, one of our main striking trio in the first team.
I’d be up for that as well. We need to be in a position where the Premier League takes precedence – certainly at this stage in the season – and that means avoiding playing first team players on a Thursday and then a Sunday. It makes no sense whatsoever this side of Christmas and I hope Unai dabbles in plenty of rotation this time around.
I also hope that some of those young players step up. Last season it was great to see Smith-Rowe break through and if he can get fit and get himself more minutes in the League Cup and Europa League between now and the new year it will be great for him, great for us, potentially giving him more confidence and more experience. Then, if the conditions are right, perhaps a loan move to give him more game time in the new year with a view to him breaking through to the first team next season.
That is especially so if you look at the Ceballos situation. He looks good and there’s a headline in the English version of Marca which sums up just how influential he was yesterday evening. That’s great to see and it’s brilliant that he’s ours, but the fact that it’s for this season only is a little sad and you just know that when the season ends, he’ll be on his way to Madrid as a more polished player.
Which is why we could really do with Smith-Rowe’s evolution continuing this season. Wouldn’t it be great if this season is used to give Smith-Rowe more minutes, more games under his belt, then look at him as a possible replacement when the inevitable happens and Real ask for their new and improved Ceballos back?
Of course I’m projecting quite a linear progression here and football has far too many variables to work out that well for us. But at this stage we just have to hope that someone like Smith-Rowe can do the business this season and look even better than last season. Let’s just cross everything in the hope that happens.
See you in the morrow. Happy Friday Gooners.