Which Arsenal players are set to benefit the most from football’s new substitution law?
By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)
Those who have tuned in to the return of the Bundesliga would have noticed that a temporary new rule has been introduced into the professional footballing world. This law enables teams to make 5 substitutions per game rather than a mere 3. During the latest round of Bundesliga action, all but four teams took up the opportunity to use their 5 substitutes available to them. Hertha Berlin, Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen all used 4 substitutes, thus still taking advantage of the rule change. All the while, Wolfsburg appeared as the league’s ugly duckling by only making 2 changes during their game against Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Premier League have just approved of this rule being implemented into their own competition, following the successful example set by Germany. This leaves Arsenal, along with the other ‘big six’ clubs with an obvious advantage. It is these teams who have the strongest squads, with the most sufficient strength in depth. It’s probable that fringe players, players who have been in-and-out of the team, and youngsters will all be given more of an opportunity to shine thanks to this temporary rule modification.
Academy graduate Joe Willock is one who seems destined to profit from the regulation adjustment. The 20-year-old has earned the majority of his Premier League minutes through coming off the bench. Out of 19 Premier League appearances this season, a whopping 13 arrived following Willock being substituted onto the field of play. It’s foreseeable that Mikel Arteta will want the Englishman to carry on operating in a similar fashion when football comes back.
Another reason Willock is likely to benefit is due to our lack of depth within the roles he can play. This season, Willock has been utilised within a double pivot, on the wing, as a wider central-midfielder in a three and as a number 10. His versatility will be important heading towards a potentially hectic schedule. He can provide crucial cover for the likes of Mesut Özil, Dani Ceballos, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira, who’ve all experienced their fair share of injury troubles so far this year. Adding to this his athleticism which can be useful late on in games, Willock should be licking his lips at the prospect of staking a claim over a regular first team spot.
Willock’s good friend Reiss Nelson is another player who will be pleased to see the introduction of the new law. Due to a combination of injuries and poor form, Nelson has been limited to just 786 minutes of football this year. After an impressive loan spell with Hoffenheim last season, many Arsenal fans were hopeful that the 20-year-old would arrive back at the Emirates stadium ready to take his place in the Arsenal starting XI. This period could give Nelson the platform to turn this hope into a reality.
During his teenage years as a South London footballing prodigy, The Athletic reported a couple of months ago that many who watched him grow up alongside Jadon Sancho believed Nelson would end up as a better player than the Borussia Dortmund superstar. Sancho is probably the world’s most in demand footballer right now whilst Nelson is yet to have truly accounted himself as a talent of the future at a professional level. Our lack of options on the wing and the absence of quality out wide at times this season means the opportunity is there for Nelson. It’s down to him to start sprinkling his magic when he’s given minutes on the field and persuade Arteta that he is Arsenal’s future on the flank.
Another player who spent a large proportion of his teenage years in the Arsenal academy is Hector Bellerin. In a slightly different way, the Spaniard could also do well out of the revision of the substitution law. Since his return to the first team following a devastating ACL injury, Bellerin has looked a shadow of his old self. The remainder of the season gives him the perfect set of circumstances to get back to his best. Why? Thanks to a combination of the new substitution law and the availability of Çedric Soares (finally!).
The potential change within the Premier League’s rulebook means Mikel Arteta can pretty much reserve one substitution spot for Bellerin every single game. So, Bellerin can get a respectable amount of first-team football and whenever he begins to whither, he’ll have the vastly experienced Çedric waiting to replace him on the bench. Meanwhile, Çedric will provide stiff competition which will push Bellerin to get back to his best as fast as possible. Football’s return represents a crucial period concerning Bellerin’s recovery from his ACL injury, which by the way, he is yet to completely recover from. Bellerin’s situation can be compared to that of Rob Holding’s, who could benefit in a similar manner.
Similarly to Nelson and Bellerin, a mixture of injury troubles and poor form has kept our number 9 Alexandre Lacazette out of the side on a number of occasions this season. Before the Covid-19 break, Lacazette’s lack of form meant that his place was taken by youngster Eddie Nketiah. Before this, he’d already missed 17 Premier League games through injury. Football’s return presents a chance for our 2018/19 player of the season to win his place back and bring some consistency back to his game.
The possibility of Arteta continuing to prefer Nketiah up top when football finally return in mid-June is not out of the question. So, whenever Lacazette is given a chance by his boss, he needs to grab it with both hands. The extra substitutions mean the likelihood of getting more minutes’ increases significantly and after battling with injury troubles for a while now, and after a 3-month break from football, Lacazette will have shaken off any niggles and will be back at peak fitness in no time. Lacazette has his doubters within the Arsenal faithful, but when football returns in June, he can finally prove them wrong.
Of course, there are plenty of other Arsenal players who will take advantage of the rule change, these are just the names that initially sprang to mind when I planned this piece. However, one thing that is certain is that the Arsenal squad as a whole will benefit from the change. We have notoriously struggled with injuries so the opportunity to ease players back into football which this rule change presents will be favourable for us. Additionally, the fact we now pretty much have a fully fit squad means we’ll have one of the league’s strongest benches. The ability to throw on a couple more quality players when we need them could prove decisive in certain games. Let’s hope Mikel Arteta uses his extra substitutions wisely.