I can understand why Unai Emery would want to rest eight players for Sunday’s visit of Crystal Palace and trust in his squad.
After pulling off a brilliant 1-0 win at Napoli only three days previously, Emery wanted to conserve his players’ energy for the run-in.
Unai Emery’s plan to rest Arsenal’s key players against Crystal Palace on Sunday backfired
His plan backfired. The problem is that Arsenal do not boast anywhere near the same strength in depth as sides like Manchester City. The forwards simply did not have the support behind them to thrive.
An inexperienced midfield combination of Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny struggled to control the game. Behind them was a makeshift defence that included Konstantinos Mavropanos, starting only his second game of the season, and Carl Jenkinson, whose last appearance in an Arsenal shirt was almost two months ago.
By half-time, Emery was already having to change his plans. What will disappoint him most is the manner in which his team conceded all three goals.
Emery has inadvertently made Arsenal’s quest for Champions League football more difficult
Shkodran Mustafi — one of the more experienced members of the side — was at fault for the first two. After failing to pick up Christian Benteke at a free-kick, he let Wilfried Zaha get beyond him all too easily from a long ball. The defence as a whole stood like statues for the third goal as James McArthur scored from a corner.
Palace are not a side to be underestimated, especially away from home where they have beaten Manchester City and narrowly lost to Liverpool.
With Tottenham and Manchester United both losing, this was a perfect chance for Arsenal to tighten their grip on a Champions League berth. Now, they must win the Europa League or get the job done in their next four league games. Three of those are away, at Wolves, Leicester and Burnley, and will not be easy given Arsenal’s struggles on the road.
In trying to lighten the load, Emery has made his side’s quest to return to Europe’s elite competition that much more difficult.
As much as losing Kevin De Bruyne would be a big blow for City ahead of the Manchester derby, it would present Leroy Sane with a wonderful opportunity.
He is one of the most exciting players in Pep Guardiola’s squad but his opportunities have been limited by the brilliance of Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling.
Sane has started just four of City’s last 11 games in all competitions but the team look more balanced when he plays.
Bernardo could drop back into midfield to allow Sane and Sterling to hurt United with their pace in behind.
After playing less than 10 minutes across City’s two Champions League games against Tottenham, Sane will be playing with a point to prove.
Losing Kevin De Bruyne would be blow but it would present Leroy Sane with wonderful chance
BRIGHTON’S SQUAD NEEDS AN OVERHAUL
Chris Hughton was adamant that Saturday’s draw at Wolves proves that Brighton have not become a bad team overnight.
While it was undoubtedly a vital point, in truth Brighton have been on a slippery slope since Christmas.
Since beating rivals Crystal Palace on December 4, they have won just three of their last 19 Premier League games and failed to score in each of their last six.
At no point did Brighton look like winning the game at Molineux. They came for a draw, spent most of the match camped in their own half and did not have a single shot on target.
Regardless of the division they are in next season, it is clear that this squad needs a major overhaul. Hughton and technical director Dan Ashworth will have their work cut out this summer.
Brighton’s squad needs an overhaul, regardless of which division they are in next season
Fulham have belatedly hit form, winning their last two Premier League matches and keeping clean sheets in both.
I was relegated with Aston Villa in 1987. When you are scrapping at the bottom, you can become consumed by fear of losing. Once that is gone, your mentality shifts and you play with more freedom.
The pressure got to Fulham and it is a pity for their supporters that they could not discover a winning mentality sooner.
He may be the Premier League’s joint top scorer with 19 goals but I understand why Mo Salah is not on the shortlist to defend his PFA Player of the Year crown. Only in the last few weeks have I felt I have been watching the player who was devastating in front of goal last year. Liverpool team-mates Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane, who did make the cut, have been more influential this season.