Arsenal return to Premier League action this afternoon as they look to make it nine wins in a row across all competitions when they face Southampton at St Mary’s.
Arsenal are very much into the groove of playing Sunday-Thursday-Sunday this season.
Following a full campaign without any European football, being back in the Europa League – as well as keeping the winter World Cup in Qatar in mind – has increased the number of fixtures the Gunners have already played at this stage of the season in comparison to around 12 months ago.
In addition, with Mikel Arteta permitted to name larger matchday squads for both competitions, it has opened up a pathway for a number of Arsenal’s most promising youngsters – such as Ethan Nwaneri, Khayon Edwards and Lino Sousa – to earn call-ups to the senior team.
Of the aforementioned trio, the former became the youngest-ever player to feature in a Premier League fixture when he appeared as a second-half substitute in last month’s 3-0 win over Brentford as he benefitted from a mini-injury crisis amid captain Martin Odegaard being unavailable for selection at the time.
In Edwards’ case, he has been named on the Arsenal substitutes bench in each of the last two Europa League outings against FK Bodo/Glimt and PSV Eindhoven, whilst Catalin Cirjan, Matt Smith and Amario Cozier-Duberry have been involved at some stage but are yet to make their senior debuts.
With the Gunners already assured of a place in the round of 32 and requiring one more win to skip straight to the last-16 stage and avoid playing a third-placed Champions League side, there’s a chance for one or two youngsters to make a breakthrough in the final two group phase fixtures as there are at least two senior stars that will be unavailable.
On Thursday night against PSV, Arteta was once again without injured pair Emile Smith Rowe and Mohamed Elneny. Furthermore, the Spaniard opted against rushing Oleksandr Zinchenko back which meant three of his 24-man senior squad weren’t in contention to face the Dutch side.
And with a 23-man matchday squad permitted for Europa League fixtures, this allowed Karl Hein, Edwards and Cirjan to be named on the bench. However, as the rules are slightly different in the Premier League (20-man matchday squads) they are the trio likely to drop out when Arsenal face Southampton on Sunday.
Of course, this is dependent on there being no fresh injury concerns for the Gunners ahead of the trip to the South Coast. Although, Arteta could have a big decision to make if Zinchenko is passed fit as a potential return for the Ukraine international could come at the expense of former Saints defender Cedric Soares.