Europa League position gives Wenger opportunity to test youth
Arsenal take on Östersunds FK at the Emirates on Thursday from a strong position. They won the first Europa League leg in Sweden 3-0 and it means that Arsene Wenger can rotate his squad with Sunday's Carabao Cup final in mind.
While still taking the game seriously to avoid what he calls a "bad surprise," he will want to keep his key players fresh. That opens the door for some others to play, and perhaps show their manager they can push for the first team.
For three players in particular, Thursday offers a real chance.
After a promising start to his Arsenal career, the Bosnia international has slipped down the pecking order a bit. He was hampered for a while with a hip injury, which might explain his absences from the team and his struggles with form. But his stock has certainly fallen.
In a recent home game, Nacho Monreal was forced off with injury but rather than calling on the former Schalke man, Wenger sent on youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles instead.
Kolasinac hasn't started a game since December and the return to a back four seems to have ensured he remains second fiddle, at least, to Monreal. Yet those who think the 25-year-old can't play as a traditional left-back overlook the fact he played there regularly for his former club.
As ever, people are quick to write off signings as failures without giving them enough time, or perhaps taking into account other contributing circumstances, but there's no doubt that Kolasinac could use a good performance to help get himself back on track. There's a reason why he was in last season's Bundesliga team of the year, and Thursday night would be a good time to remind people.
Speaking before the Östersunds game, the 23-year-old said "It's important at this age to be playing games," and there's no question that the experience gained from regular football is hugely formative.
He played well for Middlesbrough last season and although the early months of this season were frustrating because of injury, he's racked up 10 appearances so far. Given the age profile of some of the club's centre-halves, there's an opportunity to try and fill the gap that will be left by Per Mertesacker's retirement this summer.
With Laurent Koscielny turning 33 in September and Monreal heading in that direction too, Arsenal will need to make decisions about the future of the centre-half position. Defenders often are late developers, particularly as the errors they make as they learn are often so costly. Although Chambers' development has been difficult at times, it's not impossible for him to still make the grade.
He was handed a new deal late last year and a good showing could go some way to convincing the club they've got someone in-house who can help bolster a defence that has been porous at times.
The 20-year-old has been the breakthrough star of the Arsenal academy this season, and although he's been asked to play out of position at left-back or left wing-back, he started the first leg of this game in midfield. It's his favoured position and one that Wenger sees him in going forward.
"His best position is central defensive midfielder," said the Arsenal manager in September. "He has a great future."
Midfield unquestionably has been a problem for the Gunners this season and last, and with the shift toward a back four on a more regular basis, that extra man could be deployed in that area of the pitch to add some security and control.
He didn't have a great deal to do defensively in the first game, but his numbers were still impressive. He made 94 passes with a completion percentage of 94 percent and made 18 ball recoveries, speaking to an awareness when Arsenal don't have the ball, which is been a serious issue for some time now.
He deserves another chance in midfield on Thursday night and if he does well, a manager who had no compunction playing him out of position in big games may well be inclined to do the same where he's best.
Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.