Mikel Arteta urged to snub Europa League and focus on getting best from two Arsenal stars

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has been urged to forget about qualifying for next season’s Europa League and focus on getting the best out of two Arsenal stars. Gunners legend Paul Merson has told Arteta he doesn’t need worry about where his side finish in the Premier League – and must instead focus on finding the right balance for next season.

Arsenal’s recent mini-revival has stalled following two successive defeats, with Saturday’s loss to Aston Villa having left Arteta’s side languishing in 10th place in the table.

Ambitions of a top-four finish look hopeless with 15 games remaining – with Europa League qualification likely to be the best the Gunners can achieve.

But Merson reckons Arteta would be wrong to prioritise a high league placing, saying he should instead take the chance to experiment with players he sees as part of his plans for next season.

And the former midfielder says Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe are the players he should be scrutinising over the remaining months of the campaign.

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Youngster Smith Rowe starred during Arsenal’s recent seven-match unbeaten run, while record signing Pepe is finally starting to show signs of the ability that persuaded the Gunners to fork out £72m to land him in 2019.

“I don’t like the word but Arsenal are in transition,” wrote Merson in his Sky Sports column.

“I thought when Mikel Arteta first came in, he did well to get the people he didn’t want out of the club. People who were on big wages and who weren’t playing – but now he has got to be planning for next season.

“He shouldn’t be worrying if Arsenal finish 14th. He should be looking to get as many games out of Emile Smith Rowe to decide if he’s going to be playing next season.

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“Nicolas Pepe is right to be getting the games now as he looks a better player than when he arrived. It’s about seeing who’s going to be right for next season.”

Merson said next season will be the time to judge Arteta on his league placing – so he must use the rest of this campaign to finalise his ideas for the 2021/22 campaign.

“Arsenal don’t need another season like this,” wrote Merson, who won two league titles plus the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup with the Gunners.

“He needs to know who’s going to be there and what his team is. Now it’s about experimenting.

“With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, I feel him coming out of the team has been just a case of, after some results going well, Arteta has thought he can leave out his main man.

“He needs to see the other players. They can’t rely on Aubameyang every week. It’s a massive three months for Arteta to see who’s going to be there for him and who’s not.”

As well as overseeing the exits of players like Mesut Ozil, Sokratis and Shkrodan Mustafi in the January transfer window, Arteta allowed Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and William Saliba to leave on loan.

Merson believes the manager has shown he does not see those players having a future at the Emirates – and says he must now look ahead to a top-four challenge next term.

“He’s allowed a couple of players to go out on loan and I personally think in doing that, he doesn’t see them at Arsenal next season,” said the former England international.

“Arsenal don’t need to be finishing in the top seven. They don’t need to be playing Thursday night football next season.

“They need to have a plan for next season, and the plan has to be that the players who aren’t there now can’t be part of those plans.”

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