Mikel Arteta has restored the faith in Arsenal supporters through his ability to get a tune out of his players since he arrived to steady the ship that was undoubtedly heading for the rocks under the wayward skippering of head coach Unai Emery.
But not only has the Spanish coach, drafted in to replace Emery, navigated the good ship Gunners back into gentler waters he has also managed to bring a sense of calm to the vessel; once an aimless, rudderless tug seemingly only ever a heartbeat away from sinking.
And with that new sense of faith comes the chance to actually snare silverware. in the height of the malaise under Emery, supporters would have bitten your hand off to have a new boss installed who would at least set a new course for the season. But under Arteta Arsenal have that and also can still bid for glory in two competitions; the FA Cup and the Europa League.
They tackle the former when they go to League One Portsmouth on Monday night in a keenly anticipated fifth round tie – the quest for the latter, however, continues tonight. Arsenal host Olympiakos in the last 32 second leg of the Europa League at the Emirates Stadium and go into the game with the advantage of a 1-0 lead from the first leg (when a second-half Alex Lacazette strike settled the game).
After the rigours of the past few weeks, both games give Arteta the chance to rest players; shuffle his squad and give under-used players the opportunity to show what they can do. This sounds relatively straight forward but the truth of the matter is that there is a fine balancing act to it all. On one hand, Arteta must change things to freshen things up and allow potentially fatigued aces to conserve their energy and recharge their batteries.
But on the other hand, he must be a tad cautious and ensure that he selects a team capable of winning both games. As mentioned, these two games could be vital in the final analysis. Yes, it augurs well for next season thanks to the strides Arteta has managed to make; but if he can lead his charges into the new campaign with a pot in the trophy cabinet, it’d be so much better.
One player likely to be rested tonight is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — and Arteta has been speaking about the speculation around the goal-getter and his future at the club. He said it would very difficult to replace a player of that calibre, but
“hopefully we can keep him and we don’t have that issue to resolve. We went through that, playing without Aubameyang, when he was suspended for three games last month] And we had a good response from the players in those games, but long-term if you lose him the impact is obvious.”