Martin Keown thinks Arsène Wenger will swap youth for experience in the later stages of the Europa League this season.
So far, Wenger has opted to play youngsters in many of the early rounds of the competition. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Marcus McGuane, Eddie Nketiah, Matt Macey and Ben Sheaf have all been given some senior action in the competition, and six other youth players have made the bench at some stage.
It hasn’t come back to haunt the team either, as Arsenal topped the group with a game to spare. In fact, some of the best performances this season have come from the young players. However, Martin Keown thinks the youth policy won’t last long. “I think he will change it,” he told the Express.
“With the carrot of the Champions League competition there if you win the Europa League, that’s got to be massive. But there are going to be some difficult teams coming into there. Arsene Wenger will want to win a trophy.
“If he can win another trophy I am sure that will keep him at the football club. I think it’s 16 matches to get to the final, so a lot of football between now and then. But Arsenal will be in the hat, don’t worry.”
If Arsenal can beat West Ham in the quarter-final of the League Cup, there will still be other opportunities to play the youth players in 2018. The semi-finals of that competition, the early rounds of the FA Cup, and if the Gunners do draw a weaker side in the Europa League then maybe there too.
But in general, I think Keown is right. When the tough European matches come around in the later rounds, Wenger will want to play a strong side capable of winning the competition.
In the League Cup he tends to stick to his guns all the way to the end, but I think it’ll be a different story if Champions League football is at stake.