Mikel Arteta says creating an environment where all his players are “engaged” and “feeling important” will be key factors in determining Arsenal’s success in the final third of the season.
Despite slimming down his bloated squad in January, the boss – thanks to minimal injury issues – still finds himself relying on a core set of players meaning others are getting minimal if any, minutes on the pitch.
Eddie Nketiah, Calum Chambers, Reiss Nelson and Gabriel Martinelli have all fallen down the pecking order in recent weeks while Nicolas Pepe, Pablo Mari and Willian have flitted in and out of the starting lineup.
Facing the press ahead of Saturday’s clash with Burnley, Arteta touched on the importance of collective motivation and what he now needs from his squad.
“First of all that we maintain the togetherness that we have among the group, that everyone feels important and valued,” he said.
“Then obviously raise the level individually because that is going to improve every position and when that happens we will have good performances, and the better we play, the better results we will have.
On how he keeps the energy high, he added: “Trying to keep everyone engaged, feeling important and that they are going to be key for our success in the last few months.
“The contribution you can have whether you play a minute, whether you are on the bench or whether you start the game for me are equally important because in the last few months, when fatigue comes in, substitutions are key and rotation is key and when you have the opportunity you cannot demand, ‘I need four or five games now to perform’, you need to immediately and you have to maximise the minutes you get on that pitch.”
Prior to Christmas, Eddie Nketiah made 12 Premier League appearances, however, his only league minutes since came in a nine minute cameo against Crystal Palace. The Gunners didn’t want to loan or sell him in January but nor is he likely to usurp Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette for a starting place anytime soon.
You can tell Arteta is feeling a bit guilty about the situation knowing it’s an important moment in the 21-year-old’s career.
“Well, when we’re talking about management, this is one of the hazards to leave someone like Eddie out of the squad, but at the moment everybody has been fit and we have so many options up front.
“But it hurts as well because of how Eddie behaves and trains every day and because he’s a player from our academy, but he will have his chance. He needs to be patient and he’s showing no signs of lacking attitude or anything like that, it’s the complete opposite.
“He’s a joy to work with and he deserves minutes and if he doesn’t get it, it’s just my fault.”
He even went on to admit that a lack of minutes could damage his development.
“Yeah, there is [a chance of that] because he needs to play and we’ve been wanting to use him a little bit more on some occasions and we didn’t.
“To be fair, when he’s played, he’s played well, but at his age and for what he’s done the last two or three seasons, he needs more minutes. It’s something we have to talk about openly and make the right decision.”