After a shaky start to their Europa League campaign, which included an hour long delay to the start of the match, the Gunners comfortably pushed aside FC Köln 3-1. The setback to the starting time of the game was due to crowd issues outside of the Emirates Stadium. While conflicting reports surfaced on just how much of the blame should be shouldered by traveling Köln fans, Arsenal did release a statement on the issue the subsequent day.
Following the victory, a time in which the infamous ‘Wenger Out Brigade’ were deafeningly silent, the Arsenal manager addressed questions on what he expects from his team for these European Thursday nights. “Football is football,” said the Frenchman. “Once you are on the football pitch, if you love football, you play. You don’t wonder what kind of cup it is when you sit in the dressing room. You want to play football and we played against a good team tonight. A Bundesliga team is always difficult to beat.”
Although both the manager and the players obviously want to record victories in all competitions that they are a part of, the secondary European competition should mostly be utilized for giving time on the pitch to players outside of the regular XI. These fringe players could definitely benefit from game time, while optimistically gaining confidence at the same time. Wenger alluded to this with midfielder Jack Wilshere specifically after the match. “Yes, it is good for him,” Wenger claimed. “You will see that it will give him more confidence and you could see that he still needs competition, Jack.”
Wilshere is coming off of an up-and-down season on loan at Bournemouth, in which he managed 27 Premier League appearances, but did suffer yet another significant injury towards the end of the 2016/17 season. The 25-year-old certainly has the talent to start matches for the Gunners, but needs confidence and fitness to remain in the starting XI for this Arsenal team.
Along with Wilshere, senior players such as Alex Iwobi, Mohamed Elneny, David Ospina, and Theo Walcott were all included in the starting lineup against Köln. All five of these first team players are capable on their day and bring something to the senior team. While this group may not be regulars in the club’s Premier League starting lineup, featuring against Europa League teams may help push them to challenge for spots in the more important games.
With the Gunners currently in four separate competitions at the moment, Wenger will have to mix his team up a bit and use different lineups throughout the season. Sticking with the same group when you are involved in a European competition is dangerous, as it could easily wear down the players heading into a grueling season.
If Arsenal do well in the Europa League, and these secondary players gain more confidence in the process, it will give Wenger more options in Premier League matches. This will also benefit the club when the unavoidable injuries start to happen as well. The Gunners do have a fairly large squad at the moment, and player confidence will be a major key for the current campaign.
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