The 2019/20 Europa League group stages kick off this Thursday with Arsenal having been drawn with Standard Liege (Belgium), Frankfurt (Germany) and Vitoria de Guimaraes (Portugal).
The UEL group stages in usually used by top clubs who due to one reason or the other (in Arsenal’s case being our away form) find themselves in this second rate competition to test the abilities of young and academy players and see if they’re ready for Premier League matches (and we’ve already benefitted from it with Niles and Nelson having been the biggest benefactors so far). Although, Emery mixed it up last season and didn’t have an actual team B (which should have consisted of youths and fringe players) we can expect him to give the youngsters minutes this season having sold most of the players ‘blocking’ the youngsters. So who are to be the youngsters to look out for?
With Lacazette injured, we are left with only one recognized striker although Pepe can play centrally, but it’d be foolish to risk him in the early part of the UEL which brings us to youth options and we sure have some to consider, namely Balogun and John Jules and Martinelli can also play as a striker so expect to see one of them and it’ll be up to them to take their chances when it is offered.
Last season, none of our starting ‘wingers’ was actual wingers but were played there due to a lack of personnel, but it has been rectified this summer with the acquisition of Pepe and return of Nelson. And looking at our schedule, I don’t see why Pepe should start all Europa League matches (if any at all) which creates an opportunity for someone like Bukayo Saka. Saka was a mainstay in last season’s Europa squad although he was mostly on the bench and hardly started, but with his rise since then it’d take a brave man to bet against him starting this season and he has shown enough promise to be actually considered for even an EPL start. Gabriel Martinelli is another who should get a run-out having arrived from Ituano in the summer and have been making cameos, given that he has always been with the first-team squad since his arrival, it’ll be surprising not to see him start in the early stages of the UEL.
Robbie Burton was an unknown (at least to Emery) until this summer when he was chosen amongst players to tour for Pre-Season matches, he delivered some promising performance which would have put him in the reckoning to start some cup matches even though he has been with the U23s since then. Players like Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe could also get a run-out although they’ve both been promoted to the first team having impressed last season. Another who could impress in James Olayinka who also performed admirably while on tour and could start some games in the cup competitions this season.
The starting ‘keeper will be Emi Martinez unless injuries force Emery’s hands. Martinez has been at Arsenal for years now and has always served as the third GK which has frustrated him recently with the player saying in an interview that he will leave if he’s not given a chance this season.
He has since been chosen as the ‘Cup Keeper’ (a role Leno and Cech shared last season) and he has to grab his opportunity when it comes and hope that things go his way so he actually tries to push Leno all the way (something he has always said was his motivation). Moving further, we have Matt Macey (the third ‘keeper) who could also prove to be a capable deputy for Martinez this season and a ready replacement for either of the two GKs above him.
All in all, it will be interesting to see the team Emery will go with this season, hopefully, he’ll try out the youth options and leave the experienced ones to regain a top-four position in the Premier League.
By Akinnubi Oluwamuyiwa