Arsenal’s exit of the Europa League may turn out not to be a bad thing this season. With Arsenal out of all competitions bar the Premier League, there are just 10 games left for the Gunners, and Arsenal have a clear objection: win. But next season, Arsenal will have to balance multiple competitions. The club’s European history is not good enough, given success in other competitions, and the Champions League is not a competition that enables you to play your backups. Arsenal are going to have to play first team players. The problem, though, is that there aren’t enough of them, which should drive Arsenal’s recruitment this summer.
Essentially, to balance the Premier League, Champions League, and the cups, a club needs 18 or 19 players that are essentially first choice; that is, a player who the manager is not weakening the side by playing. Arsenal are not at that point yet. While Arsenal unquestionably have better squad depth than last season, Arsenal do not have the benefit that Pep Guardiola has or Jurgen Klopp has had at times: if Arteta wants Arsenal to play their best football, most of the recogniseable starting lineup has to play.
That is perhaps the larger issue. Towards that group of first team players, you can consider almost everyone who started the second leg of the Europa League and the away match against Fulham the week previous. That gives you sixteen players, with Gabriel Jesus, Reiss Nelson, Jorginho, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Fabio Vieira adding to the lineup that beat Fulham (and Jesus is really first choice). Nelson’s inclusion is perhaps questionable, and we can think of him as being replaced by Eddie Nketiah. You can add Emile Smith Rowe to that list and the hope next season is Jakub Kiwior can be part of that list. Kieran Tierney was once part of that last, but that he isn’t anymore is a sign that he will probably be moved on in the summer, and Rob Holding cannot provide much of an analogue for William Saliba.
So that’s the task for Arsenal in the summer: find players who are not only capable of playing regularly in the Premier League and Champions League, but also, crucially, do not change the style of how Arsenal play. You can see where Arsenal do need to add: another full back is a requirement, especially with the increasing fitness concerns surrounding Tomiyasu. Beyond that, there isn’t much required, though another wide player wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Of course, whether every single player in Arsenal’s squad is up to the demands of next season’s schedule and expectations remains to be seen. But in building out the squad, Arsenal are nearly there stylistically. The next step is to see whether Mikel Arteta, much like Pep Guardiola, can change three of his attacking players and not see a drop off in quality, or if, like Jurgen Klopp, he can change two midfielders and a centre back without seeing a lessening in intensity and quality. On the evidence of this season’s Europa League, Arteta can’t yet, but if Arsenal are to do better in Europe next season, he will have to be able to more equally divvy out minutes.