Sometimes to take a step forward you need to take a step back. And in a weird quirk, Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League could be turned into a positive for the future.
With Petr Cech unlikely to leave this summer, qualifying for the Europa League could create a situation where we could now purchase a top young keeper – such as Jordan Pickford – and have enough games for both to keep them satisfied.
Someone like Pickford is clearly a talented young keeper, but there is a big difference between making 10 saves in a game and conceding 3 goals, and being man of the match for keeping the score down, and doing nothing all game, and having to make a 90th minute save to keep the team ahead.
With the Europa League, we could sign Jordan Pickford and play him as understudy to Petr Cech. He would learn off the goalkeeping legend on the training ground, and he would get plenty of game time over the next year in the cups.
You would play Pickford in all 3 cup competitions – a potential of 14 Europa League games, 6 in the FA Cup and 6 more in the League Cup. That would be 26 in total if we make every final.
Now realistically, we will not make every final, but you would still expect there to be enough games in all 3 competitions to have Pickford play a dozen or more games.
By the time the 2017/18 season is over, Pickford would have grown as a keeper, be settled at the club, and have been fully analysed by the club staff to establish he has the mental strength to play for Arsenal. Qualifying for the Europa League will give him the game time needed to develop.
Game time will also be very important next year for the likes of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding.
Chambers looked good whilst on loan at Middlesbrough, playing in his preferred position of centre back. If Arsenal continue with 3 at the back, long term Chambers would be an excellent option for the right if that 3, but he needs to keep playing games.
Last season he stagnated due to lack of game time. Europa League (and the League Cup) would give him nearly 10 up until Christmas. It will keep him sharp and continue his develop. It would also allow him to build up a relationship with Rob Holding inside him.
Rob Holding has been given a lot of praise since breaking through due at the back end of the season, and he deserves that hype. But he is still young, he is still raw, and he still has mistakes in him. He was caught twice by Diego Costa in the FA Cup Final, one of which led to Chelsea’s equaliser.
He needs to be given time to develop, and whilst he has been excellent, he is probably not ready to start week in, week out in a title chasing side. But the flip side is he needs games to continue his development.
3 months ago I would have written a blog about how Rob Holding could do with going on loan next season. Like Chambers, he desperately needed games and with Arsenal playing 2 at the back, there were too many ahead of him. A move to 3 at the back, coupled with his own performances, means he has now had some more game time, and is too valuable to the squad to send on loan for 38 games.
The happy medium will be for him to start in the middle of a back 3 in the Europa League and League Cup, whilst being the first change if Laurent Koscileny or Shkodran Mustafi pick up an injury in the Premier League.
There will some now criticising this blog saying that Rob Holding should start every game next season. Let’s lay off him and give him the chance to develop. Mustafi Koscileny Monreal is our strongest defence, but Holding is knocking on the door. And the Europa League could help him knock that door down.
Other youngsters will also benefit from being in the Europa League.
Alex Iwobi has dropped out of contention in the Arsenal starting XI this season. In my opinion, he was played too much when clearly out of form in the first half of the season. He is barely 21 and should be handed a staring role behind the striker in the Europa League.
The extra games, and confidence, he would get from playing in the lesser competition will keep him sharp and ready if the top boys are out injured. He could be the star of the Europa League.
Alongside Iwobi, the Europa League will give a big chance to the likes of Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock and forgotten man Gedion Zelalem to show they are good enough for the long term at Arsenal. It would also be good to see Ainsley Maitland-Niles got more of a run out.
Finally, the early rounds of the Europa League at least would be good for any potential young striker in the squad. Whether it be a chance for Chuba Akpom finally, or if Arsenal make a move for Henry Onyekuru, 10-or so games in the Europa League and League Cup will do wonders. Remember it is the competition Harry Kane used as his break through a few years ago.
Arsenal should take the Europa League seriously. But especially in the first half of the season, and potentially up until the quarter-finals, Arsenal could play a seriously rotated squad, meaning the regular starting XI get mid weeks off, and some of our most talented youngsters get game time.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and if the Europa League means we end up with Jordan Pickford, and see Chambers and Holding turn into the England internationals they are destined to be, than taking a step back into the competition could be great for Arsenal’s future.