For a second year running, Arsenal are in serious danger of missing the top four in the Premier League. With eight matches remaining, the team sit 13 points off of fourth place with only the Europa League as a source of silverware. So, should Arsène Wenger allow Arsenal youth players game time in the league?
Time to Field Arsenal Youth Players in the League?
A Hopeless Situation
The Gunners would need not only a late-season resurgence but also help from two rival clubs in order to breach the top four. While fifth-place Chelsea seem in free-fall, an ignominious decline at this stage from either Liverpool or Tottenham would be shocking.
However, the team can take solace in the relatively poor opposition remaining in the league. Arsenal will face Southampton in their next domestic fixture, a team stuck in the relegation zone.
Additionally, Newcastle, West Ham and Huddersfield are all fighting for their Premier League status to be retained. However, the remaining three games, versus Manchester United, Burnley and Leicester, all hold challenges. Any jaunt into a Champions League place would require maximum points, and this trio could make that impossible.
Of course, at least two other big clubs would have to falter as well.
Protecting the Stars
Allowing Arsenal youth players league minutes would serve two purposes; building for the future and protecting veteran stars. While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup-tied, many first-team regulars are available to play in the Europa League, which must be the Gunners’ top priority. Rotating the squad with an emphasis on youth would keep them healthy for the crucial matches.
For example, Laurent Koscielny has been battered by injury problems this season. The Frenchman is also the team’s best option at centre-back, so keeping him fit would be massive for the European campaign. Therefore, it would be wise to give the likes of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding the nod against opposition such as Southampton.
Even with players without injury problems, the extra fitness may be massive. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil will no doubt play pivotal attacking roles for the remaining Europa League matches. Affording them lesser roles in the league would negate the possibility of injury, which could hinder the club’s chances at next year’s Champions League.
Building for the Future
The other major benefit of utilising the Arsenal youth players in the league is preparing them for future action. While it would be unwise to assume all academy products will make an impression on the first team, they need a chance to prove themselves.
For every Emmanuel Frimpong, there is a Jack Wilshere. Without first-team minutes, it is very difficult to know just how much of an impact the youth players could make at the club.
After all, what if Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah had gotten the chance to shine at Chelsea? Perhaps the league table would look very different right now. Arsenal are not in the same financial strata as Chelsea or Manchester City. Therefore, losing out on a player’s potential due to minor short-term gains is not the way forward.
The current crop of Arsenal youth players have shown promise. They deserve some kind of a shot at making the starting XI week in and week out in the future. While it would also be fool-hearty to name eleven youth players in the team for the remaining fixtures, a dash of inexperience may benefit the club in years to come.
Naming two or three youth products per match would strike a happy medium. Arsenal would have experience to spare, plus they would be building for next season. They would also enjoy the benefit of protecting the big names in North London.
The Last Word
Arsenal are at a crossroads. Down one path lies a squad full of home-grown players with Premier League experience. The other path, however, holds several under-developed youth products who are only waiting for another club to buy them.
Carefully selecting the teams until the end of the year is crucial. Each match should feature at least one or two Arsenal youth players, else the frugal North London club will find themselves held back yet again.
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