Almost a week will have passed by the time Arsenal kick-off against Burnley on Saturday, which seems like an age in the context of this season.
Whether it’s been European competition, domestic cup or league fixtures, there seems to have been no let up for the Gunners in 2021 and no let up for an increasingly weary squad of players. To have almost an entire week to rest and prepare for a game feels almost unprecedented.
The reprieve, however, will be short-lived as, next week, the Thursday-to-Sunday pattern begins again in earnest and the games start coming thick and fast once more. Given the importance of keeping everyone as fit and fresh as possible for the big games to come, it begs the question: should we use the Burnley game as another chance to rest key players?
It felt like an enormous gamble on Mikel Arteta’s part to keep Thomas Partey, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench from the start of last Sunday’s victory over Leicester but the side that was trusted to do a job in the Midlands did just that – to the surprise of many.
Given the level of performance we saw and the relative lack of minutes in the legs of those on show, I wonder whether they could and should be trusted to do the job again on Saturday – handing the likes of Saka and Partey some crucial extra rest as the season builds to its end.
God knows there are some fixtures coming up that we dare not lose and precious little time between now and May in which to enjoy any more time on the sidelines. With Burnley struggling in the league and having already played once this week, is it not the perfect time to be playing them?
You could point to the debacle of our December defeat to Sean Dyche’s men as evidence that the Terriers are no push-overs but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. If Nicolas Pepe, Willian, and Alex Lacazette can do the business against high-flying Leicester, there is no reason they can’t repeat that against a team equally likely to be tired and unwilling to venture forward in numbers.
There is a risk, of course, that some of the players who have under-performed this season may experience another such dip at Turf Moor and an opportunity to get three precious points on the board as the teams around us stumble may slip away but, in the grand scheme of things, what would be more costly, a draw at Burnley or a serious injury to Saka?
With one eye on Olympiakos next week, I think I’d rather Saka and Partey had almost two weeks of rest and recuperation in their legs than to see them toil from the start at Burnley on Saturday.
We have plenty of players on the periphery of this squad who need minutes and an opportunity to prove themselves. With the way this season is playing out, squad management is proving every bit as important as performance so it would seem foolish if we didn’t take an opportunity handed to us.
As resilient as the likes of Saka, Kieran Tierney and Aubameyang are – everybody has a limit. Let’s take a risk on Saturday in hope of bigger rewards down the line.