Mikel Arteta had good news for Arsenal supporters ahead of the Gunners’ huge Europa League clash with Villarreal, telling the club’s official website Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Kieran Tierney and Alexandre Lacazette could all feature.
“They are in contention – all of the (squad),” Arteta said. “Including Aubameyang, Laca and Kieran. They are all in contention for the game.
“We do need them (Aubameyang, Tierney and Lacazette). They are the ones who can make the difference in a big tie like this.
“But the word ‘risk’, I don’t like to put players on the pitch if they can’t perform and they can’t feel secure that they can perform.
“If it’s a risk or we’re going to take a gamble then I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Arteta then focused on his much-missed left-back. At one point Arsenal fans feared the Scotsman would miss the rest of this season.
“(Tierney) didn’t need the surgery we were afraid of at the beginning and then he’s been working like a beast every single day,” Arteta said.
“I don’t know if he’s going to make it tomorrow but he certainly wants to be as close as possible.”
There’s plenty to ponder ahead of the crunch match so let’s look at the risk factor Arteta mentioned and whether he should gamble at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium tomorrow night…
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Positives – let’s put the tie to bed
Make no mistake, this tie is the biggest game of Arsenal’s season so far.
The boost of having three of their biggest players back could help the Gunners put the tie to bed within 90 minutes.
A performance to match the one at Slavia Prague in the previous round would do exactly that.
Having Tierney, Aubameyang and Lacazette on the teamsheet would give the whole Arsenal squad a boost, as well as demoralising Unai Emery’s men before the game had even started.
It could help Arsenal fly out of the traps and get the tie done and dusted with the promise of rest ahead.
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Negatives – think of the bigger picture
Hopefully the trio can help Arsenal into next month’s final in Gdansk.
But would playing Tierney, Aubameyang and Lacazette be worth it if it sets their recovery back and threatens their availability in Poland?
We’ve seen it time and again when players return from injury ahead of schedule and end up on the sidelines for longer.
Arsenal ripped Prague apart without Tierney and Aubameyang in the side and they have enough in the squad to get the job done without them this time too.
Arteta is well aware of the risk and won’t want to play any of the trio if it endangers their season.
Will they be up to speed?
This semi-final is a high-quality, high-stakes tie. It’s not the place for a player to build match fitness and sharpness. One mistake could be the crucial difference.
Arsenal have Premier League games of far less consequence now their only chance of Champions League football next season is to win the Europa League. Reintroducing the players gradually could see a much more formidable-looking XI (hopefully) line up in the final.
The trip to Newcastle United on Sunday (2pm) might be a better place for all three to begin their return journey.
After all, they may be required to secure a win against Sevilla in the return leg at the Emirates.