A fair point was raised in the aftermath of our decimation at the hands of Crystal Palace recently.
The chastening 3-0 thumping, dished out by Arsenal hero Patrick Vieira, raised some valid questions about our squad depth. Bereft of first-choice full-backs, Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu, we lacked the vibrancy they both deliver – but most importantly, we were without the defensive stability that both provide.
But I think most of us can see that we need a few additions to cope with the rigours of a season that includes a serious challenge in Europe.
That isn’t the question that was raised.
As Mikel Arteta has surpassed expectations and helped us into a position to fight for the top four and a Champions League place, the question is – are we ready for the very best?
Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports raised a valid point too. This season, we have undoubtedly benefitted from a campaign that was free from European congestion. Coupled with our dismal early exit from the FA Cup, our calendar has been pretty easy to deal with – especially in contrast to our rivals.
But this season, if we do miss out on the top4, we will most likely enter the Europa League, with a squad that would realistically challenge toward the latter stages of the tournament. And that would make getting into the top4 next season even more difficult.
So, what Carragher was implying – this season is the best chance we have got – at least until Arteta has his masterplan fully in play.
And if we do reach that hallowed place with the operatic theme that plays out before kickoff – can we look forward to competitive games? Or will this large leap in class be a step too far for what is the youngest squad in the Premiership?
All fair points.
Our younger players have been the standout performers this season. Ramsdale, Gabriel, Martinelli, Smith-Rowe and Saka have lit up the PL. They have also done so against the bigger boys – which would indicate that they could trouble the best that Europe has to offer.
But looking at our results versus City, Liverpool and Chelsea – the standout top three in the League – it also highlights how far we have to grow.
Zero points so far in five PL games against the above sides. The exception to the defeats was the hard-to-swallow 2-1 defeat to City in January, where we put on a display that could well be our best performance to date. That aside though, we have come up short.
So, if we do happen to finish in the top4, the money in the club coffers and some increased transfer pulling power may well be the only benefits.
Can we realistically challenge? No. But the status of being in the CL is a huge boon for clubs. And the experience for the likes of Saka and ESR will be huge for their development.
OK, we might be given the odd hiding. But the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
When it comes to the Champions League, it seems we need to reach for the stars, despite not knowing if we can reach them.