Could the condensed midweek schedule for Arsenal mean reinforcements?
Morning folks, how we all doing? Feeling gravy?
So…this week is a week for finding out about some of our opponents in some of the cup competitions we’ll be playing midweek between now and the end of the year and last night we got confirmation of the opponents we face in the League Cup at the beginning of November: Brighton. Yep, that somewhat bogey team of ours of late could be back to haunt us in the cup, although I would suspect that they might field a somewhat rotated team for that match. It’s an interesting one because if you get a Premier League team in the FA Cup it’s a bit frustrating because you know you might have to field a stronger team than if you were playing Yeovil, for example. But in the League Cup more often than not you see teams heavily rotated as managers prioritise the league.
I can kind of understand it though, this competition has almost been renamed the Man City inaugural Trophy, for the amount of times they’ve won it in recent years because of their deep squads. Last season they were surprisingly knocked out before the semi final but Liverpool won it – the second best team in the league – having gamed the COVID system rules to make sure their best players were fit when they played us. So whilst teams in the middle of the league may look at the competition as an opportunity for a trophy because the big teams rotate their sides, history tells us that one of the best two or three teams in the league tend to win it anyway. So why risk fatigue and the opportunity of three precious points in the Premier League when you are in a team like Brighton’s position?
Of course I’m talking myself in to a game in which we play at home against a weekend Brighton team and navigate safe passage to the next round of the competition in December after the World Cup has ceased. But in reality it is a long way away and there are many more games to be played in between, so that’ll be the focus for now, as will the Europa League, which has a condensed fixture list compared to most years because of the World Cup. That means there will be six matches in the Europa League before we even play in the League Cup and it means there will be A LOT of football that will be played and plenty of minutes to be spread around our team. If you look at when the match days are taking place in the next few months, we play in the Europa League week after next, then the week after, then there is a pause for three weeks, then a pause for two weeks, then a two games in two Thursday’s in a row again, then the following week there is a Carabao Cup match.
Now, I know some of us have talked about how when Arsene effectivly established two clear groups in the squad – an A and B team in effect – for the Europa League, many felt it didn’t really work because it created a clear divide between the squad, but when you look at how many games that is for the Europa League in that period of time, it kind of feels like mass rotation might need to be a thing. Certainly Arteta will want to move his playing pieces around with a lot more gusto, methinks. That’s where you can kind of start to see why we might still be on the market for another player. I myself have talked up the fact I am happy with the squad, we have a good collective of players and yes when you look at the team right now, it certainly looks like we have. But there might just be one or two gaps that need to be plugged I reckon and that’s why I think the club are shifting Pepe out – all but confirmed I believe – to Nice so they can free up a spot for another player.
But then again, I guess it depends on who we get in the Europa League, because if we get some perceived weaker teams then maybe a deeper ‘dip’ into our younger players in the squad could be an option. If, for example, we get drawn Midtylland, Ludogorets and Zurich, for example, then maybe you can look at your options for younger players. But if we get Monaco, Freiburg and Qarabag, then perhaps it is a slightly tougher tie and Arteta might look at a signing or two in the next few days.
If I think now about a potential team that could play in that first Europa League match day on 8th September, I’m thinking:
Cedric – Tomiyasu – Holding – Tierney
Vieira – Sambi
Marquinhos – Nketiah – ESR
That in itself looks like a quite strong team, but it assumes Marquinhos is ready to start in this competition and that we have no other injuries in the team. If White gets injured, for example, or Tierney goes down with a knock, we’re either dipping in to the youth team or recalling players who have already been playing in midweek. Our squad looks to have depth and when you look at that team above it certainly looks like we have two players for every position right now, but due to the very nature of this season, the worry is that it could start to get stretched very quickly indeed with injuries.
It’s why you can understand why we want to offload the likes of Pepe, Maitland-Niles and Bellerin. If those three go out the door you can replace with three players the manager is going to want to use and therefore it looks a little better. Whether that is a young player to replace Maitland-Niles as a Europa League bench option, for example, I don’t know. Maybe Azeez is kept around for some Europa League minutes in case of a midfielder breaking down? Perhaps Kido Taylor-Hart makes the bench and some minutes? Does Catalin Cirjan get some time off the bench? There are a few in there but they all feel a little too raw for me and that is why I am not surprised that we’ve heard rumours of some Premier League clubs “being offered the chance to sign”, which sounds like a media briefing of “please take them” if ever there was one.
So despite me being happy with where we are at as a club in terms of our squad and the balance, having just talked this through with you over the last 20 minutes I’ve been typing, I’m starting to wonder if we do indeed need that extra body or two in the shape of a new signing. Let’s see if something is delivered this week.
Catch you all tomorrow.