Under Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery, rotation of Arsenal’s goalkeepers for the cup competitions was something of a tradition. The club’s first-choice keeper would play in the Premier League and Champions League and the League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League were reserved for those lower down the pecking order.
Had Emi Martinez remained at the Emirates in the summer, we suspect Mikel Arteta would have implemented a similar policy to ensure both he and Bernd Leno were kept busy. However, with the Argentine moving to Villa and the Gunners taking a punt on Icelandic stopper Alex Runarsson as a replacement, the boss seems to be making his selections based on the quality of the opposition.
So far, that’s meant Runarsson, a €2 million signing from Dijon, has been limited to one game; the 3-0 win over Dundalk. The other 990 minutes, across three competitions, have been played by Leno.
After last night’s 4-1 victory against Molde, the boss hinted he’ll continue to make his selection on a game-by-game basis.
“In the main competition, Bernd is going to be our No 1,” he told his post-game press conference.
“Bernd has played a lot of games, he played with the national team as well and we decided it was the right game [against Dundalk] for Alex as well.
“He just joined us and needed some minutes and we believe that was the right call.
“In general, in this competition, Bernd is going to be there but if I have to rotate because I feel it’s the right thing to manage the squad I will keep doing that.”
Presumably, if Arsenal secure qualification on Europa League matchday 4 – a draw in Norway against Molde should do the trick – then Runarsson will be given the chance to play in the final two games of the group. Those games against Dundalk and Rapid Vienna might also be an opportunity to give minutes to the next generation from the Academy.
Having made his debut against Dundalk last week, there was no room in last night’s squad for Folarin Balogun. Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson, both not quite fit, also missed out. When available, it’s clear that squad selection is a headache for Arteta.
The boss insists that he’s committed to a long-standing club policy of giving youngsters a chance but that they must prove they deserve their place in the team.
“If you look at the numbers of how much the young players have played since I joined, I don’t think it’s a question that we can raise to ourselves,” he said.
“Eddie [Nketiah] was on loan, he wasn’t playing and now he’s playing. Bukayo [Saka] wasn’t playing the minutes that he is playing under me, the same with Joe [Willock]. Reiss [Nelson] didn’t play today because he was injured. If not he would have started the game tonight again.
“The good thing is that they’re not just young players so we have to give them the opportunity, they have to earn that right to play and they are doing that. That’s a really positive thing and how lucky we are to have this generation.
“We [have to] develop them in the right way and the right way sometimes is giving them the opportunities when they deserve it. If not they don’t play and it’s the best way for them to learn the standards that are required at this football club.
“If not then you are not good enough to play here. When they show it they have to start. We have a few examples of that and they start every week.”
On giving Balogun opportunities, he added: “Again, the chances will come with what they show us with their performances on the pitch and in training.
“The better results we have and the more clear we are in the group stages, obviously that opens the door a little bit more to give more opportunities to more players that deserve it.
“At the moment we still have some senior players that we cannot give them the time that they deserve because at the moment we have a lot of fit players.”