Arsenal blew their lingering chances of a top-four finish with a frustrating draw against Brighton on Sunday, turning their final league game of the season into a dead rubber.
Technically, Arsenal could still finish fourth with a 7-0 win and a Tottenham Hotspur defeat to Everton, but nothing has happened this season to suggest that’s even a possibility. The Gunners will be much better off putting everything into their Europa League semi-final second-leg against Valencia on Thursday and rotating at the weekend.
As a result, this game represents an opportunity for Emery to throw in one or two of the academy players who have performed so well this season. The Arsenal u23s finished second in the Premier League 2, and many of them have impressed in their cameo appearances so far.
Let’s have a look at five that deserve a shot either from the start or from the bench against Burnley.
Nketiah is the obvious choice from the academy options. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will presumably start yet another game together against Valencia on Thursday, so they could really do with a rest.
Arsenal’s 19-year-old striker has been in great form for the u23s once again this campaign, scoring 10 goals and assisting four in 11 games. He also looked dangerous in recent cameo appearances for the first team. He deserves his first ever Premier League start.
It’s bizarre that Willock hasn’t already been given more chances by Emery this season. He has three goals in four first-team games in 2018/19, as well as another nine goals and two assists in his 14 u23/u21 appearances. That all comes from intelligent movement and improved finishing, something the senior side could use in midfield.
Arsenal’s midfield have been performing particularly poorly since Aaron Ramsey’s injury, with no one really stepping up in the Welshman’s absence. Willock could hardly do much worse, and as one of the academy’s star players this season, he’s another who deserves an opportunity.
At just 17, Saka is still young enough that he could play in the Arsenal u18s next season. He’s easily progressed past that level this campaign though, becoming a nailed-on starter for the u23s and making his first-team debut as well. His Emirates debut against Qarabag impressed everyone watching, and it’s a shame he hasn’t started again since.
Across all levels, the winger has directly contributed to 24 goals in 33 appearances this season, one every 87 minutes. It’s an excellent record at a time when the senior wingers are faltering, and one which should get him some minutes on Sunday.
Osei-Tutu’s lack of senior minutes is as much down to bad luck as anything else. He was injured from August to November, and that kept him from having any real chance to play in the League Cup or the Europa League group stage. Even when he was fit again, an uncharacteristic red card left him without any minutes in December or early January.
The right-back has since returned to the u23 starting eleven, and Arsenal have experienced their best run of form with him in the team. He consistently makes dangerous runs forward, creating chances and supporting the wingers, but he’s also been part of a solid defence that’s only conceded once in their last five games.
Stephan Lichtsteiner is nailed on to leave this summer, Carl Jenkinson barely even makes the squad anymore, Hector Bellerin is injured and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is sure to play on Thursday. It’s surely better to give Osei-Tutu a chance to fill in than play one of the right-backs that won’t be around for long.
John-Jules is probably the least likely to get a chance of the five, with Nketiah ahead of him. However, if Emery wants to leave either Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of the squad to give them a complete rest, he could take the youth striker for the bench instead.
The 18-year-old has 16 goals and eight assists in 29 academy matches this season, and he scored on his first-team debut in the midseason friendly in Dubai.
What’s more, John-Jules’ all-around game has been fantastic in recent weeks. He links up with teammates and brings them into play like a far more experienced centre-forward. He presses defenders in a way that should have Emery licking his lips, and his first taste of senior football seems to have only lifted his game to a new level.
Let’s hope at least a few players from this list get opportunities, but all five of them have earned a chance.