With Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi on the verge of heading out on loan and Mesut Ozil ostracised from the squad, Arsenal looked short on options and ideas.
But if a week is a long time in football, then a month is an age – and, suddenly, Arteta looks spoiled for choice. The Spaniard probably still has a dilemma, but at least now it is being caused by deciding who should get the nod to start.
Thomas Partey’s £45million arrival from Atletico Madrid on deadline day has obviously had a big impact on the situation, but the performances of Mohamed Elneny and Joe Willock are proving crucial, too.
It was Partey who earned most of the plaudits following Sunday’s win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, but Elneny was equally impressive. All of a sudden, the Egyptian looks like a first-team regular and he should return to the starting XI on Sunday when Arsenal host Aston Villa.
Elneny was rested for much of Thursday night, playing only the final 10 minutes, and in his absence it was Willock who became the latest midfielder to stake his claim for more minutes. The 21-year-old was a bright spark for Arsenal on what was a rather tame night in north London, despite the 4-1 scoreline.
A shock looked on the cards when Martin Ellingsen gave Molde the lead after 22 minutes, but two own goals soon cancelled out their advantage. Nicolas Pepe then added a third and by the time Willock had added a fourth in the 88th minute the game was well and truly dead.
Europa League group games always have a pedestrian feel about them and the lack of a crowd this season only adds to that. There are no raucous away fans to create an atmosphere and, instead, matches resemble the undercard of a boxing clash.
They are nice enough to watch, and there are some good moments, but there is a lack of needle or drama that the heavyweights in the Champions League offer.
Arsenal will want to be in that competition next season – and winning the Europa League is a viable way of achieving that aim.
Competing in Europe and the Premier League is always hard – and will be even more so this season given the packed fixture schedule – but at least Arteta now has a midfield he can rotate to meet the demands placed on his squad.
Willock is quickly becoming the joker in that pack, as he offers something different to Arsenal’s other midfielders. The 21-year-old is full of energy and dynamism, which allows him to arrive late in the box and offer a genuine goal threat.
He now has two to his name in as many games in the Europa League and surely it will not be long before he gets his first Premier League minutes of the season. That is certainly his aim – and performances like Thursday night will no doubt force Arteta’s hand soon enough.
“I’m just taking it game by game,” said Willock. “It’s part of my journey – I’m just a kid. I have to keep learning. I’m trying to work hard and when I get a chance in the Premier League, hopefully I can do the same thing.”
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