Europa League the exciting place to be
This week Arsenal begin their Europa League campaign, and it is actually quite exciting.
Since being in the Europa League, Arsenal have used it to give the 2nd string a run out. For the majority of the 2 seasons, that has been mainly players who many described as “deadwood” alongside a couple of youngsters. This season it is different, it is more exciting.
The Europa League (and League Cup) will be used for the rehabilitation of Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding.
All 3 are set to return from long term injuries and will take a while to be ready for 1st team action. Instead of dropping down to the U23s for a few games, they have an opportunity to play senior football every mid-week for a month or so due to the Europa League and League Cup.
The next international break begins on October 11th. Between now and then Arsenal play 3 mid-week games on the spin – 2 in the Europa League and once in the League Cup.
I would expect Tierney, Bellerin and Holding play some part in all 3 fixtures.
After the international break, a decision will be made as to whether all 3 are ready for the 1st team. I would expect Tierney and Bellerin to step up, but Holding will have a battle on his hands to start ahead of David Luiz and Sokratis.
Alongside Holding will be Calum Chambers, who will perhaps feel disgruntled about having lost his place following a good performance on the opening day of the season against Newcastle. The mid-week games will be important as he continues to push for the 1st team – or aims to remind people of his talent with an eye on away.
Expect Chambers to play every game as part of Arsenal’s mid-week squad.
Joe Willock will be another who will be a mainstay of the mid week squad.
The English youngster performed well in pre-season and deservedly started the 1st couple of games of the season. But with players returning from injury he found himself not required against Tottenham.
Having just signed a new 4-year-deal, he could get up to another 9 starts under his belt before Christmas. A decision will then be made whether to loan him out for the 2nd half of the season.
Alongside Willock will be either Lucas Torreira or Matteo Guendouzi, depending on who has not played at the weekend.
I would be excited if it was Guendouzi, and Arsenal went through their mid-week campaign with the pair of 20-year-old midfielders, but I imagine it will be Torreira as Guendouzi has now pushed his way into the first team.
Emile Smith Rowe was unlucky last season.
He looked head and shoulders above the other Arsenal teenagers, but injury and a badly timed loan deal as seen him full behind others. His rehabilitation will continue as he becomes the main creative force in the mid-week team.
The Europa League will be the time to shine for Riess Nelson.
Nelson is clearly too good for the U23, but struggled in when thrust into the 1st team at the beginning of the season. He was fantastic coming off the bench for Hoffenheim, but now needs to prove that he is good enough to be a regular starter.
He will be looking at how Jadon Sancho has developed playing week in week out and realise he needs to be playing regular football. But to play regular football, he needs to take the chances when he does play. The mid-week squad will be key for him.
On the left we will see Bukayo Saka.
Saka is the man pushing Nelson. The next in line from the youngster. It will be an opportunity to prove himself as being better than his older team mate.
If Saka outperforms Nelson in the midweek team, I can see a situation where Nelson is sold next summer and Saka promoted.
Up top will be Brazilian Gabriel Martinelli, who will be leading the line with Eddie Nketiah now on loan at Leeds.
Taking into account how poor a few of the senior players were against Watford on Sunday, performing well in the mid week squad could be a great opportunity for the likes of Chambers, Holding, Torreira, Willock and Nelson to push for a 1st team start.
An exciting line up:
Bellerin Chambers Holding Tierney
Nelson SmithRowe Saka