It might feel like a long time since Arsenal fans can say their team has been in a proper title race, but they won’t have forgotten all the old clichés that managers and players trot out when in this position: Take one game at a time; we aren’t thinking about anyone else; every match is a cup final. While we know, of course, that there is some truth in those assertions, it’s also clear that the top football teams will be planning long-term. Arteta might say that he is only thinking about the next game when in front of the cameras, but we know he will be planning for the medium and long term too.

In light of that, what must Arteta be planning around Arsenal’s Europa League campaign? We know that the Premier League is the priority. Man City might still be favourites in the Premier League odds, but we know that Arteta has gotten his team into a commanding position at the top. While bookmakers might opt for City, many neutrals are starting to believe it is Arsenal’s title to lose.

A busy spring for Gunners

But lose it they can, and Arteta will know that his task will involve making the correct decisions around his squad during the business time of the season. The Europa League Last 16 might feel a long way off, and we have yet to learn who Arsenal’s opponents will be, but we could see heavy fixture congestion from March to May should Arsenal go deep in the competition, as well as the FA Cup.

Indeed, consider what could happen if Arsenal manage to reach the Europa League Quarter-Final. Yes, it remains a big “if”, but the hypothetical serves a purpose here. The Quarter-Finals will be played on the 13th and 20th of April. That comes during what looks like Arsenal’s busiest Premier League month, with six league games played. Those fixtures include Liverpool (Away, 8th April), West Ham (Away, 15th April), and Chelsea (Home, 19th April). In addition, there is also a potential title-decider of Man City (Away, 26th April).

Perhaps the question is this: Will Arteta go full tilt at the Europa League, given the tough Premier League fixtures? The obvious answer might be “no”. As with the EFL Cup or early rounds of the FA Cup, Arteta might play the kids alongside some of the first-team players who haven’t got a lot of game time; perhaps a similar line-up to the FA Cup 3rd Round tie against Oxford United. But that’s easier said than done: What if Arsenal were to be drawn against a “big team” like Barcelona or Manchester United in the Last 16 or Quarter Finals?

Champions League qualification should be a moot point

Of course, one of the things unquestionably playing on Arteta’s mind is the fact that the Europa League’s “carrot” of a Champions League place for the next season might not be so alluring for Arsenal. The Gunners may or may not win the Premier League this season, but it would be a capitulation of epic proportions if the team did not secure a Top 4 place and Champions League qualification. In short, the Europa League is not necessary to get the Gunners back to where they belong in Europe’s most prestigious competition.

Europa leagueAll of this is conjecture right now. There are many games to play until we get to the point where Arteta must start thinking about squad rotation to accommodate the Europa League. By March, when the competition resumes, Arsenal may be in a stronger position in the Premier League than they are now, or they could be in for a nail-biting finish. Regardless, Arteta will need to be astute with his resources if he is to realise his dream of being a Premier League-winning manager.