Amazingly after Wednesday night’s 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Arsenal’s season isn’t over.
After the Gunners elimination from the Europa League at the semi final stage by Unai Emery’s Villarreal, it seemed as though they were going to have very little to play for in the final weeks of the Premier League campaign.
But a defeat for Tottenham at home to Aston Villa means that qualifying for a place in the Europa Conference League is very much on ahead of the final game of the season.
Going into the match against Brighton that short-term aim will obviously be at the forefront of Mikel Arteta’s mind, Arsenal’s long-term future will also definitely be on the agenda.
This proved to be the case at Selhurst Park where the Gunners boss gave perhaps his biggest hint so far of his plans going forward.
With the game heading towards a disappointing draw Arteta had two attacking options on the bench to help him change things – the trusted experience of Alexandre Lacazette, and the youthful exuberance of Gabriel Martinelli.
The Spaniard opted for the latter and as the 19-year-old bundled the ball into the back of Vicente Guaita’s net on the stroke of the 90th minute, it was safe to say that the decision proved to be the right one.
As always when Martinelli puts in a good display off the bench the questions Arteta faced at full time related to when the Brazilian was going to be starting more regularly for Arsenal.
“Very close,” said the Gunners boss when asked how far he was from a regular place in the team.
“And he needs to keep fighting to be closer and closer.”
Martinelli along with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe has been among the few bright sparks in a largely dismal campaign for Arsenal.
The trio along with youngsters like Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and William Saliba look set to be more heavily involved in Arteta’s squad plans for next season.
However, for now, the Spaniard seemed to suggest that he would be cautious when it came to throwing them all in at the deep end at the same time.
“We need to understand where the boys are and the phase of their development, what they have done this season and last season,” he told press after the victory at Palace.
“I know that we want to play with 11 academy players and all under 20, but guys, who is doing that? I think we’ve done it more than anybody.”
This is smart management on the part of Arteta. Whenever he has been asked about his young players the 39-year-old has always expressed caution in order to try and preserve their smooth development.
While the exciting crop of talent coming through Hale End right now have shown that they are more than capable of stepping into the drivers seat at the Emirates, it’s probably wise not to completely take the handbrake off just yet.
That said though Arteta was willing to admit that as long as the youngsters keep putting performances like they have done this season, it would be difficult to resist the urge to play more of them for too much longer.
“They’re going to have their chances and they’re earning their chances,” he said.
“We’re not just giving the chances they’re earning them, absolutely earning their chances and it’s a joy to have them in this club.”
Plenty of experienced outgoings are expected this summer, with David Luiz’s departure already confirmed and the likes of Willian and Lacazette also being linked with moves away.
It seems that as Arsenal prepare for next season, it’s youngsters like Martinelli who they’ll be relying on more often to help get them back up the table.
Source by Football London