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Europa League hits and misses: Will Arsenal put their faith in youth? Lift off for Celtic?

Time to trust the Arsenal youngsters?

It's a very strange situation at Arsenal. In the Europa League, they topped Group B with flying colours, winning every game and scoring 20 goals in the process. In the Premier League, they are languishing in 15th and have scored just ten goals in 11 games.

The Europa League has traditionally seen young players given their chance to shine and in Thursday's dead rubber against Dundalk, Mikel Arteta took full advantage of that. He made 11 changes to his starting team with more eager youngsters waiting on the bench.

There were plenty who impressed too. Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock added to their tallies for the season, with the former now Arsenal's top scorer in all competitions this season with five goals. Emile Smith-Rowe - making his first start under Arteta - and Ainsley Maitland-Niles linked up wonderfully down the left and clearly have a connection from their academy days.

The much-hyped Folarin Balogun also came on as a substitute and once again caught the eye. He scored his first senior Arsenal goal two weeks ago against Molde and added a second with a well-taken strike at the Aviva Stadium. He added an assist too for Willock's strike, showing some superb hold-up play.

The question you have to ask now is should Arteta start using these talented young players more in the Premier League? Something is clearly not working with the current first-team choices, so why not give the likes of Nkeitah, Willock and Maitland-Niles more regular minutes? And what could Balogun do in the top flight?

When asked in his press conference, Arteta replied: "We need everybody on board, we obviously have a large squad at the moment with players back from the injury, so we'll have the opportunity to pick who is better in the moment and still rotate some players. But it gives us more options in the Premier League, to focus there and try and get the results we need."

Only Arteta can make these calls, but Thursday may have given him food for thought.
Charlotte Marsh

Arsenal fixtures

Sun Dec 13: Burnley (h)

Wed Dec 16: Southampton (h)

Sat Dec 19: Everton (a)

Mourinho still has trust issues

Spurs topped their Europa League group at a relative canter in the end, without conceding a single shot on target in their 2-0 win over nearest rivals Antwerp to secure first position.

But with that in mind, why did Jose Mourinho feel the need to introduce Heung-Min Son, Harry Kane and Tanguy Ndombele from the bench with more than half an hour to go - especially moments after they had taken the lead?

Mourinho hasn't held back with his comments about some of his fringe players during this Europa League campaign, especially after their dismal display in the reverse fixture against Antwerp, and as actions will forever speak louder than words, you certainly do read between the lines as to what these substitutes were meant to mean.

Even in last week's draw at LASK, the manager made a pointed comment that Spurs' second string had an attitude problem and didn't feel they needed to produce the required intensity in Europe's second-tier group phase, and by saying he brought the trio on to "win the game", he made it clear the reserves are still not in danger of ousting those ahead of them in the pecking order.

It doesn't appear to be sitting well with some; Harry Winks disappeared down the tunnel and never returned, unused sub Dele Alli did at least reappear in his seat after a brief break. But there's not much either can say to Mourinho. Spurs have topped their group, and are top of the Premier League. Who's going to tell him he's doing it wrong?

Ron Walker

Tottenham fixtures

Sun Dec 13: Crystal Palace (a)

Wed Dec 16: Liverpool (a)

Sun Dec 20: Leicester (h)

Rangers now a team to be feared in Europe

Rangers have come a long way from the side that only three years ago was dumped out of Europe by minnows Progres Niederkorn to now one that has topped their Europa League group after winning 2-0 in Lech Poznan.

As a result, Steven Gerrard's team will now be seeded for Monday's draw for the last 32, and no one will want to meet them in the knockout phase.

This latest victory came with Gerrard resting seven first teamers ahead of Sunday's game with Dundee United at Tannadice - live on Sky Sports Football - not that you would have known after another impressive display in Europe.

Rangers are now unbeaten in 26 games at home and abroad this season and had it not been for two late slip-ups against Benfica, they would have won all six games in their section.

Richard Morgan

Rangers fixtures

Sun Dec 13: Dundee United (a)

Wed Dec 16: St Mirren (a)

Sat Dec 19: Motherwell (h)

Leicester represent formidable obstacle

On paper, tradition or reputation, Leicester City are probably the first English team clubs on the continent would want to draw in the Europa League knockout stages.

At first glance there's good reason, with three Premier League heavyweights - Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal - all in Monday's round-of-32 draw. But scratch beneath the surface and Leicester are a side clubs will do well to avoid.

As maiden Europa League campaigns go, they don't come much better than that of Leicester, who eased past AEK Athens to progress to the knockout phase as a seeded team after ending the group phase as winners of Group G.

And the manner in which they made seven pre-match changes and still outclassed AEK offered another reminder of not only the talent Brendan Rodgers has at his disposal but also his ability to continue to get a tune out of them.

Benfica, Real Sociedad and Olympiakos are the big hitters that Rodgers' side could draw, but with Harvey Barnes' influence continuing to grow, the emergence of Cengiz Under, and the prolific form of Jamie Vardy, the Foxes have earned the right not to fear anyone.

Jack Wilkinson

Leicester fixtures

Sun Dec 13: Brighton (h)

Wed Dec 16: Everton (h)

Sun Dec 20: Tottenham (a)

Green shoots of recovery for Celtic

This was a performance of some grit and a first victory in six games in all competitions for Celtic. Lille arrived in Glasgow with something to play for. The prize of a third straight away win in the Europa League would have cemented top spot in Group H.

But Neil Lennon turned to his fringe players and now has a selection problem ahead of Sunday's Scottish Premiership clash against Kilmarnock. Ismaila Soro was excellent in place of Scott Brown.

Ewan Henderson provided the desire and commitment that has been sorely lacking from his team-mates when an early replacement for the injured Jeremie Frimpong. And in David Turnbull, Celtic had the game's stand-out performer and match-winner.

Turnbull's talent has flickered intermittently since his summer arrival from Motherwell, but Lille couldn't cope with him. This was further indication that Lennon has perhaps been too loyal to the old guard, and those who saw off Lille must surely now be undroppable for the weekend.

It was a vibrant Celtic team who carried the fight to a Ligue 1 side sitting just two points off Paris Saint-Germain and who beat AC Milan 3-0 at the San Siro during this group stage campaign.

It is a pity that Celtic didn't perform with the same intensity throughout an entire 90 minutes of any of their previous five fixtures, but Lennon can for now sleep easy after witnessing green shoots of recovery.

Ben Grounds

Celtic fixtures

Sun Dec 13: Kilmarnock (h)

Wed Dec 23: Ross County (h)

Sat Dec 26: Hamilton Academical (h)

Source: Sky Sports

 

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