Arsenal host Molde at the Emirates of Thursday evening.
So far, so good for Arsenal. Victory over Rapid Vienna demonstrated some of the Gunners’ better qualities at the same time it highlighted clear weaknesses, but three points are three points. Beating Dundalk 3-0 on home soil is solid enough and was littered with individual moments to savour, but ideally we might have wanted a few more than three.
That’s being very picky, mind you.
Ahead of the third group game and aiming for nine tantalisingly close-to-knockout-qualification points, Mikel Arteta could put one foot firmly in the next round. I don’t think that’s a premature statement to make.
Rapid Vienna’s stuttering start shouldn’t be looked into too much given they’ve had their two toughest fixtures already, but the signs are that Molde are the team to beat. Top spot in this group is essential, especially given the strength of the sides now looking likely to drop into the competition from the Champions League, so the Norwegian’s must be seen too.
The squad, and indeed the starting lineup, is good enough to win each of the remaining four group stage matches. We know that. Doing so is a different matter, but quality-wise, there is no hiding from the fact.
What would be nice to see, however, is if ‘Arsenal C’ are also good enough. Perhaps not a full ‘C’, maybe just ‘B’ with a few sprinklings of ‘C’ thrown in for good measure. I mean the likes of Folarin Balogun, Joel Lopez, Ben Cottrell and Miguel Azeez; y’know, the youngsters.
Of course, the primary benefit would be to provide this exciting crop with first team experience, but Arsenal are also faced with a frightening schedule coming up – most teams do – where games will come around every three or four days up until March.
Those who fall into ‘Arsenal B’ at the moment will be needed elsewhere, and any rest they can earn seeks only to benefit everyone within the club. The first team all the way down to the Under-23 stars will be well placed if qualification is wrapped up as soon as feasibly possible.
But moments like Bukayo Saka‘s European breakthrough are some of the best experiences to have as a supporter. ‘One of your own’ making an impression on the biggest stages. Take care of business against Molde and there’ll likely be more to come.