It’s a nervous wait to find out the extent of Bukayo Saka’s fitness as Arsenal prepare to face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Thursday.
‘Hopeful’ is good, but it’s not great.
This is the point in the season where squad management comes into play more than any other time. A match on average every 3.5 days up until January 1 will require Mikel Arteta to, in some ways, rediscover certain talents. Gabriel Martinelli being one of them to come to the fore.
Arsenal can manage Bukayo Saka fitness against Manchester United with a dreadful Everton side the perfect opportunity to hand him Premier League rest
Saka has played an unbelievable amount of football since he broke into the first team, and his regular club inclusion and usage for the England national team means breaks rarely come around. Depending on just how fit he is, Old Trafford is one where no rest can be afforded.
Arsenal sorely need him and if he’s at, say, 90% for the game, the fine line between erring on the side of caution or not is easier to make. The way the fixtures have played out means a trip to a beleaguered Everton comes four days later, and if the team are looking for opportunities to take him out of the starting lineup then Goodison Park would suit.
Just one goal and one point in the previous four matches, and just four wins from 14 all season, sees them languishing down in 14th place with multiple injuries to contend with. Even if Saka isn’t quite there, the kindness of the fixtures means he can be spared until Southampton at home on the following Saturday.
He isn’t the only one either as the same level of management will be needed for Emile Smith Rowe and, well, pretty much everyone. But in this case having Everton after United allows Arsenal to take that tiny bit of extra risk – if it comes to it.
Of course, if he’s teetering on the border of being more heavily injured then he shouldn’t play. That goes without saying. Yet this is a time in the season where as much as coaches won’t admit it, they can examine the strength of the next next opponent and manage the squad accordingly.
Saka will be needed against United. Arsenal can cope without Saka against Everton. Especially an Everton disintegrating before our very eyes with key players missing, a board and owners being called to resign and a manager whose already unwanted arrival is losing any faint shred of credibility he may have had in the supporters’ eyes.
The Premier League fixture list allows Arsenal to take advantage of weakness.