With this season feeling as if it has lasted forever it has been easy to forget our squad is weak.
If you look past first 11 or 12 names we quickly come to academy graduates who have had to grow up very quickly in a disappointing season. As well as those who have managed to find themselves out of favour and others with discipline/attitude issue hanging over them.
Debate has raged for some time now over Matteo Guendouzi and Mesut Ozil and their lack of inclusion in the match day squads, but whichever side of that particular argument you come down on, the fact is those are two senior players that we can no longer count on when we really need them. Add this to the injuries to Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, Gabriel Martinelli, Bernd Leno and the cup tied Cedric Soares – not to mention Sokratis who can’t get a game and is probably wondering why he didn’t get a chance to at least show what he can do against Watford. All of a sudden the squad looks shallow.
Against Watford our bench included a keeper that has played a sum total of one EFL cup match for us (he did ok from where I sat), which is still one more than Matt Smith’s zero.
Academy grads, Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson have all had minutes this season - but none are yet the finished article (or even close) and the least said about Sead Kolasinac the better. While Lucas Torreira now seems to have fallen out of favour with Arteta and is far behind Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos as the Gunners head coach’s preferred middle two.
If we’re chasing the match and needing a game changer from the bench who do we look to?
Assuming Saka starts the cup final in place of Joe Willock who started, it’s not clear who we look to. We all know this transfer window is a big chance for us to do some catching up and rebalance the squad (See my previous article on how Arteta can reshape his unbalanced squad) but this Saturday our starting XI will need to play their socks off as there isn’t much depth behind them.
Contrast this with Chelsea against Wolves in their final game, and their bench consisted of: Kepa, Christesen, Barkley, Abraham, Pedro, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odi, Tomori and Emerson.
Ok so I am not quaking in my boots, but in terms of options they look, on paper, to have more game changers, more options and more experience. After a marathon season, and with a seriously depleted squad, we are going to have to dig really deep and pull off another Liverpool/City-esque result to end this damp squib of a season on a high.
But there is hope, we have managed some big results in these recent games with this squad of players. We have showed character and discipline (yes even David Luiz) and against City, particularly, we stuck to Mikel’s game plan as he yelled his way through the game in multiple languages.
We have been pretty clinical with our finishing and we have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette scoring and in form. Let’s hope this Saturday it all comes together and our name is once again on the Cup.