It’s our final Europa League group game as we take on Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin this evening.
It’s a real shame that for the first time in my lifetime Arsenal are playing a competitive fixture in Ireland, but nobody can go. Covid-19 restrictions mean that crowds are not permitted at sporting events, and tonight’s game will play out behind closed doors. There’s a big Arsenal fanbase over here too. It’s not at the levels of Liverpool or Man United, but I’m pretty sure we’d have come close to filling the stadium had we been permitted to attend. Another reason why 2020 can get in the sea.
Tonight’s team is likely to be youthful, with Mikel Arteta saying:
We have a few kids here. We left a few players at home as well. There are a lot of games and we need a complete training week as well, which I think is going to benefit us. But we’re still going to have a very competitive team to play tomorrow.
I don’t think we’ll have gone way down into the Academy to bring some of our most up-and-coming double-barrelled chaps like Crofton Winklepop-Smith, Barnaby Stingwing Junior, and Gadfly Cliff-Clavin, but surely the likes of Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and others will be hoping for a chance. Maybe not from the start, but at least as a sub in a game which means nothing beyond the prize money (each Europa League win pays around €500,000 – which is about 1/48th of the cost of a Dominik Szoboszlai).
I think we’ll probably see something like: Runarsson, Cedric, Chambers, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Willock, Elneny, Smith Rowe, Nelson, Pepe, Nketiah.
Reasonably strong in the circumstances. If it were me, and I were trying to convince a promising young striker that his future lies with the club, I might be tempted to play Balogun from the start. We’ve seen plenty of Eddie to know what he’s all about, and in fairness to him he has a couple of Europa League goals to his name – including one in the last game – but it’d nice to see more of Balogun than 10 minutes at the end.
This is quite an interesting, perhaps delicate situation too. Nketiah’s contract expires in the summer of 2022, so at the end of this season he’ll have a year to go and between now and then the club need to make some kind of decision. Do we extend his deal, or look to move him on with 12 months left on his deal? We could give him a new contract, not simply because we think he’s going to be the striker we need in the future, but to protect his value in the market.
Remember, Sheffield United paid Liverpool £20m+ for Rhian Brewster who had scored a grand total of 0 goals for the Mugsmashers, and who has yet to get off the mark for his new club. I know they are the absolute masters of selling a young player with no real track record for phenomenal amounts of money, but Nketiah is the same age, heading towards 20 senior goals in his career, and the record goalscorer at England U21 level. He should be the kind of player who generates some revenue if we decide he’s up for sale.
Where this gets a bit complicated though is that Nketiah’s agent is also Balogun’s agent. Can you convince him that two of his young clients, playing in the same position, will be best served by staying at the same club? If you really push for Balogun, for example, does it make things awkward because Nketiah is a factor. Thankfully Arsenal have an expert contract negotiator at the club who will certainl- …
Anyway, I hope we see some youthful Arsenal endeavour on the pitch tonight. We have done in previous rounds and we’ve looked at some of the performances and hoped they might translate into the weekend’s games in the Premier League. Joe Willock did get the nod after some good displays, but it was a big disappointment (to me at least) that Reiss Nelson’s excellent performance against Rapid Vienna didn’t translate to his inclusion in the squad for the derby.
Obviously there’s a calibre of opposition issue to take into account, but it’s not as if the players getting picked at the weekend are performing so well that we can’t consider the ones who knock on the door when given an opportunity in the Europa League. Let’s see what happens tonight, and then Sunday’s visit of Burnley to the Emirates becomes all-important.
Some extra reading this morning.
If you’re looking for some pre-Arsecast listening, we’ve started a new podcast series over on Patreon called Statements in which a guest has to Strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with statements I read to them.
For example: Mikel Arteta should implement his preferred style of football and assemble the team over time, rather than try to find a style of play which suits the players he has.
Joining me for the first one is Tim Stillman, and if you want to sign up for the Patreon it’s just €5 per month, you get instant access to all our content there, a free audio-book of Together: The Story of Arsenal’s Unbeaten Season, access to Discord chat, and it helps support all the work we do on the site that remains free for everyone.
Sign up at patreon.com/arseblog
We’ll have a live blog and all the usual stuff this evening, catch you later for the game.