ARSENAL are in the middle of a bruising schedule and like most fans I was concerned to see the energy and urgency in the team’s performance drop off at St Mary’s on Sunday.
Fortunately, despite dropping Premier League points for the first time since the defeat at Old Trafford – Arsenal still sit two clear at the top of the table.
However, in his desire to win last Thursday against PSV, Mikel Arteta asked key individuals to push their bodies more than others.
Because players such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli and Granit Xhaka are so critical, when their levels drop the whole team suffers.
I believe this is what we witnessed in the second half against Southampton and it cost the team two points, after the first period had been so dominant.
Xhaka has barely been rested this campaign and has played over 1200 minutes, while Saka has logged over 1100 – with Jesus and Martinelli also having featured in over 1000 minutes.
These players are all major contributors to our Premier League position and we all want them to continue to be that – with a good rest before Sunday’s clash with Nottingham Forest essential in my view.
It is for this reason that I have been pondering how Arteta might reshuffle his pack when the team travel to Holland on Thursday.
Obviously, despite being all but there, a point would see Arsenal secure top spot – meaning Arteta could play an entirely second string side in the final match at home to Zurich.
So, how could the team set up against a PSV side who have been free scoring at home, stay competitive and still manage to rest the stars who have played more minutes than their peers?
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Perhaps Arteta might consider a one game reversion to the system that won Arsenal the FA Cup in 2020 and opt for a back three.
We have seen the team shift to this during matches and we know he experimented in pre-season so it should not be difficult for the squad to adapt.
Rob Holding is a regular in the Europa League and possesses plenty of experience playing in a back three, where his lack of pace is less exposed.
Because Gabriel has had to play most of the Europa matches, being our only left footed central defender, I propose he be rested – with William Saliba and Ben White deployed either side of Holding.
Both have played less than the Brazilian and the young Frenchman played a whole season at left centre back in Ligue 1.
Kieran Tierney and Takiehiro Tomiyasu could play as the wing-backs, with Thomas Partey and Albert Sambi Lokonga in midfield.
Despite having enjoyed a recent run in the team Tomiyasu has only logged around 600 minutes, with Tierney playing a similar amount.
Admittedly, Tomiyasu is less attacking, but the imbalance is not unusual in Arteta’s teams, and it offers the double benefit of allowing a specialist defender to nullify Cody Gakpo, as the Japanese star did to Mo Salah a few weeks ago.
Tierney will therefore have far more licence to attack on the flank, which is one of his strengths.
Partey has played a lot less than Xhaka and will offer the senior head in the centre alongside Lokonga.
The young Belgian has looked superb when called upon and having Partey alongside him will allow him to express himself more going forward.
This leaves a relatively inexperienced, but talented and fresh, front three consisting of Reiss Nelson to the left and Fabio Vieira to the right of forward Eddie Nketiah.
I have no concerns about Nketiah deputising for Jesus on Thursday and both Nelson and Vieira will relish the chance to show their manager they deserve Premier League minutes, or to impress potential loan suitors in the case of the Englishman.
In addition, with Nelson having played over 20 matches in the Dutch top-flight last season, he should know the opposition well.
Obviously, we can have some of the rested stars on the bench if this plan B is not successful but in reality, this solid shape should be quite capable of limiting PSV.
We may look less exciting or threatening going forwards on paper, but the young guys might surprise a few.
Either way, having seen our tired and flat Premier League second half showings post Europa Thursdays, not only at St Mary’s but also the week previously at Elland Road, I feel this drastic action is merited.
We have four league matches before the World Cup and to be top at the break we need our best players rested and refreshed for those games.