Mikel Arteta says picking his squad is increasingly difficult following the decision of Premier League clubs to return to three substitutions and cap matchday numbers at 18.
Following football’s restart, FIFA, wary of players buckling physically under the weight of fixtures, afforded domestic clubs more flexibility by introducing rules to allow for five substitutions and squads of 21.
The rules, which brought a new dimension to in-game tactics, could have been adopted for another year, but were twice voted down in meetings this summer after suggestions they unfairly benefitted the bigger clubs.
Managers now have to think a little harder about who makes the cut. At Craven Cottage yesterday, Arteta left out the likes of William Saliba, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe, Matteo Guendouzi, Cedric Soares and Mesut Ozil. Given the club have a number of injured players, even more face disappointment further down the line.
Asked about competition for places – specifically about how Willian’s presence might motivate record-signing Pepe – Arteta touched on the wider issue.
“Well, it’s not for Nico, I think it’s for the players that were today on the bench and as well the ones that we had to leave at home,” he told his post-game press conference.
“If they raise their levels then the performances of the team and club are going to improve and this is what I demand from them.
“I’m really happy with all the boys and the way they’re training, but selection is getting more complicated and with this new rule of just having only 18 players in the squad makes it very difficult.”
The decision to start Willian certainly paid dividends at Craven Cottage with the Brazilian playing a part in all three of Arsenal’s goals. The mere presence of the 32-year-old raises the bar in attack, according to the boss.
“We knew that Willian was going to give us performances straight away,” he told Arsenal Digital.
“It’s difficult at the moment to pick the right players up front because there is so much competition, but that’s going to raise the level of the team.
“My job is to try to get everybody at their highest level and doing their best. We have some other examples with Mo, with Rob, with Ainsley as well, they are at their best at the moment and that is going to make it difficult for the rest of the team.”