Thursday was a tough game to watch. But we are through, top, whilst not adding too much game time to our first string.
Mikel Arteta has rotates his squad throughout the Europa League.
Whilst some have criticised him for playing – or bringing on – the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Thomas Partey, his philosophy has clearly been about “sharing the work load.”
He has used a core 5 players that started every game (Rob Holding, Fabio Vieira, Eddie Nketiahm Kieran Tierney & Albert Sambi Lokonga), but for the rest, the minutes have been shared:
Those players with a less explosive, better injury record played the most, whilst those who rely on pace (or have were being protected from injury), played least.
Throughout the Europa League, Arteta was criticised for his subs.
Taking Martinelli off for Saka, or Xhaka for Partey.
“Why is he risking senior players” those with very little football knowledge cried. To the rest of his it was clear and obvious.
Often, these subs happened in and around the 60 minute mark. He was clearly sharing the work load.
You would have Martinelli playing 60 minutes, then Saka come on for 30. Then the next game Saka would play the 60 minutes with Martinelli 30.
It was often the same with Xhaka and Odegaard. Whilst often Partey was bought on when we were losing control of the midfield and needed his quality and experience to see the game out.
It meant that he could rotate his first team without weakening the side on the pitch, and achieve out ultimate goal of topping the group.
It also has not affected our league form.
Yes, there was the draw to Southampton, but you will drop points away in the Premier League regardless of the team you put out mid-week (Manchester City dropped points to Aston Villa). It is unrealistic to expect your team to win 38 out of 38 games; although the way some fans go on, a “perfect season” seems to be their minimum requirement.
Post Europa League, we beat Brentford (A – 30), Liverpool (H – 3-2), Leeds United (A – 1-0) and Nottingham Forest (H – 5-0). The only dropped points being in that Southampton game (A – 1-1).
The league table since 16 September (1st game week after the 1st European games) shows how well Arteta has done marshalling his squad:
“Burnout FC” as some fans have labelled us have actually got through the difficult midweek – weekend period with more points per game than anyone else.
Newcastle, having played a game more and not had any midweek football, are the only side to have gained more points than us during the period.
Manchester City and Newcastle are the only sides to have scored more – unbelievable when our strikers have been “misfiring” according to the press. And no team has conceded less.
Experts predicted that during this tough period, Arsenal would implode and tumble down the table. But we have actually opened up the gap on Manchester City (1 point), Tottenham (4), Chelsea (5) and Manchester United (5). Whilst Liverpool have won 10 less points than us during the period.
Arteta has also spoken about needing to prepare for next season.
If we are in the Champions League, we will not be abkle to afford to rest players midweek; so it was important that our young players get used to playing twice a week.
It is clear that if we are in the Champions League, we will need further strengthening – the fall off from Gabriel Jesus to Eddie Nketiah, Saka / Martinelli to Nelson and Partey to Lokonga is too great. But this is not something new.
On a side note, I have not mentioned Rob Holding. He is 4th choice centre back and we do not have “Manchester City money” where we can have a £40million defender, being paid £100k a week, as 4th choice. He is still a solid option.
Edu knows what he is doing and, along with Arteta, will recognise where we need to increase the strength in depth ahead of 2023/24.
A cover striker for Jesus, another wide option and a defensive midfield option will be top of the list over the next two windows.
We go and get (for example), Ivan Toney, Mykhailo Mudryk and Danilo and we are then building that strength in depth needed to maintain this league form next season when we have Champions League football.
Top of the league, through top of our Europa League group, whilst rotating the minutes and doing a great job sharing the load.
If you are still questioning Arteta, his line up and his substitutions every weekend, then perhaps it is time to find a new hobby.
Chelsea tomorrow. Noon kick off so there is unlikely to be a blog (leaving at 8am to meet in Victoria for 10am).