Saka and Saliba epitomise Arsenal’s biggest PROBLEM


Arsenal exited the Champions League on Wednesday as they were defeated 1-0 by Bayern Munich in a fixture that would most kindly be described as a chess match, reports.

It was a result that followed swiftly on the heels of the Gunners suffering a 2-0 loss against Aston Villa at the weekend.

Their dreams of winning the Premier League after 20 years hang in the balance, those of winning a first Champions League have gone. For this season at least.

Mikel Arteta is already planning for the summer. Viktor Gyokeres is being lined up as a big-money arrival from Sporting CP, yet amid this obsession for a goalscoring No.9, is it possible that the Spaniard is missing a bigger problem?

Arsenal have looked jaded in their recent matches, a squad worn out by a busy season of action. It’s a similar issue that they suffered 12 months ago, only this time it has kicked in a little later.

And there’s little wonder. The Gunners’ star players are being worked to the bone.

Bayern have only two players in their entire squad who have played more than 3000 minutes of action this season: Harry Kane, who did not play in the DFB Pokal, and Leroy Sane.

Arsenal stars exhausted

Little wonder the Bundesliga side looked fresher than their Premier League counterparts given that Arsenal have eight players who have accumulated the same number of minutes.

William Saliba, for example, has played 3,962 minutes this season – more than eight hours more football than Kane. Declan Rice, Gabriel, Ben White and Martin Odegaard have all featured more than the England captain, while Bukayo Saka has played virtually the same amount.

In part this is due to Bayern having played fewer fixtures, but it is also a legacy of squad rotation.

Areta does not yet have a deep enough pool to do this. There is no replacement for Saka on the right, the centre-back partnership plays virtually every minute while Rice and Havertz have become irreplaceable due to just a couple of injuries.

Arsenal’s most used players in 2023/24 (as of 18 April)

Names Minutes
William Saliba 3962
Gabriel 3822
Declan Rice 3734
Ben White 3565
Martin Odegaard 3514
Bukayo Saka 3435
Kai Havertz 3304
David Raya 3180

But there’s more to it than that. There are players in the squad Arteta simply does not trust.

Jorginho, Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe have all appeared in the matchday squad more than 40 times this season yet have less than 1,700 minutes on the field.

Leandro Trossard, meanwhile, has not played 2,000 minutes, despite contributing richly when he has been on the park. The Belgian has 13 goals, surpassed only by Saka. Surely he should be more extensively used?

Look at the other Champions League semi-finalists. Real Madrid only have four players to have clocked 3,000 or more minutes, PSG three and Dortmund just two.

Arsenal’s players are no worse than those who will compete in the final four, but they are more tired. Changing this should be Arteta’s goal over the next 12 months.

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