Arsenal Could Be Reaping an Unexpected Reward From the 2022 World Cup

While the English Premier League may be paused for the 2022 World Cup, it’s safe to assume that Arsenal supporters are savoring the break. It wasn’t unreasonable to think the Gunners would improve and play some attractive soccer, but even the most optimistic fan probably didn’t expect them to be sitting on top of the table.

Heading into the World Cup, though, there was a fear of injury and fatigue. The footballing calendar is more compressed than ever, and Arsenal’s squad can be a bit thin in some key areas of the pitch. Through the early days in Qatar, though, Mikel Arteta and company have been catching a bit of a break.

Arsenal have had good luck when it comes to the World Cup workload of their outfield players

If you think about players as human beings, then you’d want all of them to make it to the World Cup and have a legitimate run to the title. When you’re focusing on the Premier League season, though, the equation changes.

As mentioned above, Arsenal’s calendar is rather congested. The Gunners have already played 14 Premier League matches, plus six Europa League fixtures and one EFL Cup tie. While things could be worse in the coming year — the Gunners are out of the Carabao Cup and avoided an extra round of European engagement — it won’t exactly be a walk in the park. Beyond the sheer volume of fixtures, the tension will only increase as we reach the business end of the season.

Through that lens, the World Cup seemed like a disaster. With some key players like Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey, and Gabriel Jesus heading to Qatar, many supporters feared they’d return to London exhausted and primed for a late-season collapse.

And while there’s still room for disaster, as an injury can happen at any time, things have worked out pretty well thus far. As Ben Browning noted on Twitter, Arsenal’s outfield players have only played 612 minutes at the World Cup, not counting stoppage time, through November 30. For reference, Man City’s have been on the pitch for 2,327.

When you consider the Gunners in Qatar, that makes sense. Matt Turner has started every match for the USMNT, but he’s a goalkeeper and therefore excluded from the list. He’s also Arsenal’s backup, which means there isn’t much concern about his fatigue. Aaron Ramsdale has sat on the bench for England, and Ben White didn’t see the pitch before heading home. Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli have been bit-part players for Brazil. Takehiro Tomiyasu hasn’t played much, and William Saliba didn’t even start France’s third group-stage game when Didier Deschamps rotated his squad.

The majority of the minutes have come from Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, and Bukayo Saka, although the England man did get a rest for the Three Lion’s date with Wales.

It remains to be seen how much this lack of effort actually helps Arsenal, though

Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka playing for England in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Bukayo Saka is one of the few Arsenal players seeing significant playing time in Qatar. | Stu Forster/Getty Images

So now that I’ve presented Arsenal’s relative lack of World Cup minutes, how much does that actually matter? Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell.

At the most basic level, we don’t know what the rest of the tournament holds. I’m writing this on December 1, and there’s still plenty of soccer left to play. It’s impossible to predict how far each team will go — maybe England suffers a shocking upset, and Saka heads home early — and what individual lineup decisions will take place. Neymar’s injury, for example, could make Gabriel Jesus’ flexibility more important and see him playing significant minutes moving forward. Should Brazil reach the title game, those efforts could add up.

It’s also worth considering where Arsenal’s minutes are being allotted. The three busiest names — Partey, Saka, and Xhaka — are all pretty irreplaceable in the Gunners’ system. While there’s room for reinforcements in January, a single injury to any of those names, especially the Ghanaian, could cause the house of cards to crumble.

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Beyond that, we can look at depth from the opposite perspective: Manchester City’s. Pep Guardiola’s squad may be putting in a great deal of collective effort, but the manager does have a wealth of resources at his disposal. Let’s assume that Kevin De Bruyne needs a bit of a break, which isn’t a foregone conclusion, given the way Belgium has been playing. Someone like Phil Foden or Jack Grealish, neither of whom has been seeing much playing time for England, can handle shoulder the creative burden for a little while. And, beyond that, Erling Haaland currently has his feet up. The Norwegian and his scoring prowess can paper over plenty of issues.

At the end of the day, we’re dealing with a great deal of uncertainty, which isn’t to be unexpected for a prediction about professional sports. There’s still plenty of time for things to go wrong, and even if everything in Qatar works out perfectly, Arsenal could still come up short.

Through the opening stanzas of the World Cup, though, everyone on the red side of North London will have to be feeling pretty content.