Arsenal beat BATE Borisov in the Europa League last Thursday in Belarus. Arsene Wenger and company registered a convincing 4-2 win.
Theo Walcott opened the scoring in the ninth minute before adding a second a short while later. BATE Borisov are the 50th side Walcott has netted against.
Rob Holding scored his first for Arsenal a few minutes later. Finally, Olivier Giroud capped the night with the Gunners’ fourth and his 100th in red and white.
Marcus McGuane and Edward Nketiah also came off the bench to make their debuts for the winning side.
Ringing the changes
Despite a much changed side, Shkodran Mustafi, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Giroud all featured against West Bromwich Albion on Monday night.
Mustafi also played a full 90 against Brighton, the following Sunday, and Elneny and Giroud made their third consecutive appearance, albeit off the bench.
Arsenal’s bench on Thursday night teemed with youth players, including Chuba Akpom, Josh Da Silva, Vlad Dragomir, Charlie Gilmour, Matt Macey plus the two lucky lads who made their debuts. This Gunners’ side was the youngest Arsene Wenger has fielded since December 2014
You wouldn’t expect this bench to star against the stronger teams to come in Europa League. Things will get tougher should Arsenal make it out of the group stage. Although the latter now seems likely.
Does Arsene Wenger have a dilemma on his hands then?
Choosing your battles wisely
No-one expects Wenger to forfeit the Premier League race for full attention in the Europa League. He’s too proud and the fans would never allow it.
The issue is—with the strength of the surrounding teams this season—Arsenal’s best route to return to the Champions League may be though winning Europa. That’s the same way Manchester United got in this year.
With that in mind, do Arsenal play full strength squads in both competitions and gamble on players’ fitness?
This is Arsenal we’re talking about. The club are famed for their high-profile injuries. Jack Wilshere is only just returning while Santi Cazorla remains in the treatment room for now.
Wenger holds a flash sale
The side that played Borisov were tenacious and the youth contingent did themselves proud. But can the Gunners really turn to that bench in a 0-0 against one of the potential Champions League drop-outs they could encounter?
A solution was at the club all along, but Wenger’s weird transfer window seems to have thrown that back-up plan out.
Kieran Gibbs and Gabriel were two players that would have been perfect for an extended run in the Europa League, as would have Wojciech Szczesny. Not to mention the recently departed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Joel Campbell, Lucas Perez and Carl Jenkinson are all out on loan, to Real Betis, Deportivo la Coruna and Birmingham City, respectively.
Strong second team
It’s hard to argue that players were sold to free up funds as Alexandre Lacazette was the only paid for acquisition. Sead Kolasinac came in for free from Schalke. In the end, Arsenal made a profit of around £13 million this transfer window, not including the funds raised from loan players’ wages
It seems glaringly obvious that Wenger should have kept a large squad for Europa League purposes. That would have allowed for a strong side in both the league and Europe. There would also be room for youth to feature in the smaller games, such as the last one against Borisov.
A lot of the players who left demanded moves away to further their careers—as was the case with Oxlade-Chamberlain—or to secure more playing time.
But look at this potential line-up below. It’s a Europa League winner, right?
With tougher tests to come, don’t be surprised if the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil feature more prominently in the tournament.
Winter is coming
February is always a vital month for the Gunners and this season’s could end up being downright devastating.
Arsenal are currently pencilled in for Spurs away and Manchester City at home in the league, as well as a Europa League double tie. Also looming are a potential FA Cup fifth round match and the Carabao Cup final, should they get there.
Perhaps Wenger’s clear out was in preparation for a draft of new faces However knowing Arsenal, that is unlikely for a January window.
As the season progresses, the Gunners need to choose a priority. Try and balance the two and they might well risk derailing both.