Arsenal were weakened without Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe against Liverpool.
That is according to Manchester United legend Gary Neville, who delivered his verdict on the two Gunners absentees on Saturday night while on co-commentary duty for Sky Sports at the Emirates Stadium.
The international break proved to be somewhat of a nightmare for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta as in addition to Saka and Smith Rowe, he was also without David Luiz (knee) and Granit Xhaka (illness).
Despite being spotted in training on Friday, Saka was not risked against Liverpool, while Smith Rowe returned from England U21 duty injured and didn’t take part in any sessions at London Colney ahead of the game.
And with the two attacking midfielders – and Xhaka – ruled out, it meant there were recalls for Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos as they joined Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Martin Odegaard in the lineup.
It was a decision that Neville felt backfired on Arteta as he said the quintet don’t offer what Saka and Smith Rowe provide when not in possession.
“You just think you have Ceballos, Odegaard, Pepe, Lacazette, and Aubameyang all in the same team,” Neville said. “You’d have to say, really, they’re a bit flaky out of possession, their strengths are with the ball.
“It certainly weakens Arsenal, you can see it here.
“It’s alarming to see the drop off than when you see the likes of Smith Rowe and Saka playing.”
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Perhaps worryingly for Arsenal fans is that Saka and Smith Rowe may not return for Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final first-leg tie with Slavia Prague.
“I don’t know,” Arteta said when asked if the duo will return next week. “Today I cannot answer to that because I don’t know.”
What the Gunners boss will know is that his side can ill-afford a repeat performance on Thursday as the Europa League realistically represents their only chance of playing Champions League football next season.