Mikel Arteta says Arsenal will need fresh legs when they face Benfica in Athens on Thursday and hinted that he’ll be making a number changes from the side that lost 1-0 to Manchester City.
After a 1-1 draw in Rome last week, the Gunners hopes of qualifying for the Europa League last-16 sit on a knife-edge. While the boss, possibly with one eye on the trip to Greece, rested five players for Sunday’s encounter with the Premier League leaders, he needs to check on the status of several squad members before he can decide on further rotation.
“I don’t know if it will be five, four or seven,” he said in his post-game press conference.
“We will have to see how they react from today’s performance. It was a really tough game physically for both because it was full gas from the beginning and we will see who will be available and fit to be there.
“Obviously we need a fresh team and we need legs as well because then the decision making and everything becomes better when they are fresh. We will see who’s available.”
A lack of depth in key positions means that for all the tinkering in recent weeks, certain players aren’t getting breathers – Xhaka, Saka and Bellerin come to mind – while others are spending more and more time on the bench.
It’s an issue that is obviously playing on Arteta’s mind.
Asked how he’s managing the squad’s fitness, he said: “Well, it’s hard because everyone wants to play and everyone wants to be available for every game, so if anything, I feel sorry for the players that they cannot play or are not playing more.
“But everybody is doing their best all the time to be available, which I really value a lot. But it’s true that there are players with lots of minutes and we don’t have the players to replace them, unfortunately.”
Yesterday’s defeat leaves Arsenal hovering in 10th place in the table. It looks increasingly likely that if the club is to secure a place in Europe next season, we’re going to need to win the Europa League.
“It [the Europa League] is really important, but obviously every defeat now in the league puts us in a much more difficult position.
“We have to take it game by game and we need a run of games. I think we have a big run of performances, but we’ve lost three games now in different ways and it’s not what we want obviously.”