Arsenal and Europa League: Perfect opportunity for youth

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 28: Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal during the Emirates Cup match between Arsenal and Olympique Lyonnais at Emirates Stadium on July 28, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 28: Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal during the Emirates Cup match between Arsenal and Olympique Lyonnais at Emirates Stadium on July 28, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images) /

The relatively favorable draw Arsenal received in the Europa League group stages should allow them to play youngsters while resting first team players.

Before the season started and Arsenal knew who they would be facing in the group stages of the Europa League, I wrote an article about how Unai Emery should approach the Europa League. In that article I discuss how youth is Arsenal’s best option to start the European tournament. After Friday’s group stage draw in Monaco, I am even more convinced that youth is the correct direction to go this season.

The Europa League Group Stage Draw saw Arsenal placed in Group F alongside Standard Liege, Vitoria FC and last season’s semi-finalist Eintracht Frankfurt. A group that Arsenal should finish top of relatively easily come December. Eintracht will push Arsenal for top spot but will be missing their two main strikers from last season, Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller.

Another factor that will please Emery and is in Arsenal’s favor is the relatively short away trips during the group stage of the competition. In comparison to the other six Premier League teams fighting their way to European glory this season, Arsenal has the second shortest amount of travel of the lot, only behind Chelsea.

The Gunners trips to Germany, Portugal and Belgium will see them travel only 2896 miles. Compare that to Manchester United’s 8916 miles and Manchester City’s 6754 miles and Arsenal can count themselves lucky.

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Furthermore, if we take a look at Arsenal’s schedule surrounding the away matches, there are some tricky matches that Emery will want his first team squad rested and ready for. Arsenal travel to Frankfurt for their first away Europa League match but will be happy to be facing Aston Villa at home a few days later in the league. The other two matches, however, will not be a walk in the park.

The second Europa League away match comes in Portugal against Vitoria FC. That following weekend Arsenal will have to travel to Leicester, a team who should be pushing to be in Europe come next season. The last away match of the group stage against Standard Liege in Belgium will be played just days before Arsenal host Manchester City in the league. That match comes during the Christmas rush of games that will see Arsenal travel to West Ham and Everton and face City at home. Hopefully the group stage will be locked up by this time as Emery will need his strongest team ready for that Premier League stretch.

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Combine the fact that the Gunners will face some difficult matches soon after returning from European duty with the fact that they received a pretty favorable draw and one could see Emery fielding a relatively young squad for the group stages. It will also allow Emery to ease his young injured first team players back into competitive games before throwing them in the Premier League.

Kieran Tierney, Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and even Kostantinos Mavropanos should all get good minutes early in the group stage once fit. It will help get them match fit to face tougher opponents in the Premier League. The group stage will also be a good opportunity for Calum Chambers to get minutes and try to fight his way into Emery’s starting eleven and will also provide good game time for back-up keeper Emiliano Martinez.

With the arrivals of Pepe and Ceballos and the reintegration of Lucas Torreira and Mesut Ozil back into the midfield, Reiss Nelson and possibly even Joe Willock will be biting at the chance to show Emery what they have to offer with other first team youngsters like Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe looking to get extra minutes under their belts.

The group stage should also present the perfect opportunity for academy players who were with the first team’s summer travels to get vital first team minutes and show the coaching staff what they’re made of. Zech Medley, Bukayo Saka, Robbie Burton and Tyreece John-Jules should all see group stage minutes at some point. It gives them the opportunity to gain valuable experience and exposure and could see their transfer values rise should any other clubs take an interest in them.

Too many times in the past the coaching staff at the club have pushed their starting players to play too many minutes early in the season leading them to ware out and perform at lower standards come the end of the season. This year presents the perfect opportunity for Emery and Ljungberg to bleed their young players against some experienced opposition.

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First team players should be afforded the chance to recover and rest midweek and focus on the Premier League. Younger players eager to fight for first team minutes and prove themselves should be set loose in the group stages. The talent and skill of the younger players in the squad should prove to be enough to see Arsenal through to the knockout stages. Hopefully, towards the serious end of the tournament, Arsenal will have secured top four in the Premier League allowing star players to fight for a trophy in the Europa League.