Our Europa League campaign kicks off tonight away from home vs FC Zürich, and this season marks our return to European football after missing out last season for the first time since 2005. Arsenal have been deemed as favourites to win this year and it seems that a return to the Champions League either by a top four finish or by winning this trophy is the bare minimum expected from the fans after missing out is narrowly last season. Many fans have taken to Twitter to declare that this competition is a chance for the ‘B Team’, however in my opinion this isn’t the case and Arteta may be putting out a stronger squad than we expect.
Arsenal were the first team to be drawn in the group stage, putting us in group A with the Austrian FC Zürich, Dutch team PSV and Norwegian side FK Bodø/Glimt. Initially this seemed like an easy enough group, although this may not be the case and while it is my opinion that we will see players who don’t usually make the starting XI get a chance, for example Matt Turner, Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith-Rowe and Eddie Nketiah, Arteta will still be bringing in essential players such as Saliba, Partey, Xhaka, Jesus, and Saka to pick up the pieces and get a result should this be required of them. The generous squad rotation we can expect to see is what will help us get through all four fronts; the Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup.
KT was once a key member the squad who wouldn’t be left out of the starting XI for any reason other than injury and he is the only part of Unai Emery’s defence that still gets game time in the Premier League, even if that is usually off the bench these days as he has seemingly been replaced by one of our key summer signings Oleksander Zinchenko from Manchester City. Having been quite injury prone, Tierney has only started one Premier League match this season, against Aston Villa, where it was made brutally clear how much we missed Zinchenko as Tierney’s linkup and movement down the right side of the pitch is simply not on par with Zinchenko’s. The Europa League will be a good chance for Tierney to regain some lost confidence and reassert himself to Arsenal’s defence, which will only improve the squad with more competition for the starting XI.
Eddie came through the Arsenal Academy after he signed for us in 2015 having been pushed out of the Chelsea squad. He became our number 14 in the summer after he was our only competent goal scorer when Arteta finally gave him a chance after Lacazette’s dip in form following Aubameyang’s departure in January. He scored 5 goals in 21 appearances for the club last season but was subsequently replaced by Gabriel Jesus in the summer transfer window as Arsenal’s number one striker. We have seen him make an impact off the bench this season in the Premier League but it will be nice to see him given a full 90 minutes to shine after he became a firm fan favourite following his importance at the end of last season.
Emile Smith Rowe
Another firm fan favourite that came through the Academy, ESR has also suffered from a lack of game time this season as we see Saka and Martinelli displacing him, and we certainly haven’t heard the Saka and Emile Smith Rowe chant nearly enough this season. He has only played a total of 47 minutes this season across four appearances off the bench. When Arteta was asked what ESR must do to make a return to the starting lineup, he responded “He needs to stay fit, train well, and perform at the level he is able to perform because when he does that, it is really difficult not to pick him.” Smith Rowe hasn’t played a full 90 minute match since April, and increasingly worrying is the fact that he has been suffering with an injury “for a while”, and after feeling increased discomfort following the Manchester United game on Sunday, he has been left at home to recuperate so will definitely not feature in tonight’s match against FC Zürich. Hopefully when he has returned to full fitness he will make a bigger impact in both the Europa League and domestic competitions.
All of that said, we all have our fingers crossed that we can make a return to winning ways tonight and kick off our Europa League campaign as we mean to go on; with a win. This will not only boost the players confidence, but also prove that this is a new Arsenal side with an improved mentality and that the loss on Sunday was only a blip.
Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson