Arsenal V FC Zurich In Pictures
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Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has performed a drastic U-turn on his expectations of Bukayo Saka and the rest of his squad. Arteta previously urged Saka to make himself available for every game to reach the levels of Europe’s elite, but went against his stance after Thursday’s narrow win against FC Zurich.
Saka made his return to action as a 63rd-minute substitute in Arsenal’s 1-0 win to top Group A in the Europa League. The 21-year-old winger wasn’t expected to start after suffering a worrying injury last week, but Arteta made seven changes from Sunday’s 5-0 win against Nottingham Forest.
After full-time at the Emirates Stadium, the Spanish boss admitted that Arsenal need to rotate not only to give the whole squad a chance to play but also due to the hectic fixture schedule. He told BT Sport: “Yeah, we have been rotating.
“I think we have a team that has rotated the most in Europe. It was the same today, and we have to do that. First of all, because the players deserve chances and deserve minutes. And the second one because of the amount of games that we play. It’s impossible to maintain the rhythm and intensity and keep players fit with the schedule.”
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Premier League clubs have commonly used their Europa League involvement to rotate down the years. However, Arteta’s decision to make wholesale changes – dropping William Saliba, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, Thomas Partey and Saka to the bench against Zurich – came as a surprise after his comments on the latter last month.
He insinuated that he wanted Saka to play every single game and the rest of his squad to show a willingness to do the same, stating ‘no fitness coach in the world’ could tell him they couldn’t.
“Look at the top players in the world. They play 70 matches every three days and make the difference and win the game. If you want to be at the top, you have to be able to do that. And if we start to put something different in the mind of a young player, I think we are making a huge mistake because then [he would] be like, ‘no, I don’t play now, on astroturf I don’t play. I don’t want that,” Arteta said.
“I want them to be ruthless every three days. I want them knocking on my door [saying], ‘I want to play. I want to win the game. There is no fitness coach in the world that is going to tell me that they cannot do it because I’ve seen it. Seventy-two games and scored 50 goals. The players that score 50 goals do not play 38 games in the season. It’s just impossible.”
Despite his strong stance, Arteta said it himself, Arsenal have rotated more than any other side in Europe this season. And he has also seemingly changed his desire to see Saka play ‘every three days’, potentially after suffering last week’s injury scare at such a crucial stage of the season.
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