The scheduling of the 2022 FIFA World Cup was always going to be a source of debate. At no stage in the past did the topflight in England have to pause for this major tournament.
For most Premier League teams and their supporters, the event’s timing is a source of frustration. There are some benefits, but most would like to continue playing. Over in North London, league leaders Arsenal may be cursing this break more than most.
Pros and Cons
The downsides are obvious, and the advantages are few. Moving forwards, teams that are in form would want to maintain their momentum. Those on a winning streak simply don’t know if they will keep the three points flowing.
Players will potentially be in Qatar for a month in dry, sapping conditions. Injury and general fitness levels could be a factor.
Those sides in poor form may welcome the break, but there are no guarantees that their fortunes will change from Boxing Day onwards.
As for the benefits, they solely focus on players who are not involved. Some of the Premier League’s finest are sitting the tournament out and the rest could prove advantageous to the individuals and their teams.
Arsenal certainly had momentum going into the World Cup break. A number of pundits felt that the Gunners would perform well this season, but few would have expected the team to lead the table at this stage.
Mikel Arteta’s men are at the top with 37 points from their opening matches. The gap over Manchester City sits at five points after Pep Guardiola’s men slipped to a surprise home defeat against Brentford.
Despite those standings, City remain favourites to win the title. Updated Premier League odds show that Arsenal have shortened, but the markets suggest that the reigning champions will complete a successful defence.
There will be plenty of debate over that verdict, but the current break may well benefit the Gunners’ biggest rivals.
Behind Arsenal and Manchester City in those outright markets, Liverpool sits in third place. Like City, Jurgen Klopp’s men could take an advantage from the fact that their key striker is enjoying a well-earned rest.
Egypt are not at the World Cup and Mohammed Salah will, presumably, be undertaking a training regime to maintain his fitness. He certainly won’t be risking injury in the searing heat of Qatar.
Over at Manchester City, prolific center forward Erling Haaland is in an identical position. After scoring 18 goals in his first 13 league games, the Norwegian has momentum, but he’s also been suffering with a niggling injury. Will the World Cup allow him time to recover full fitness and get back to his prolific best?
Jesus Saves his Best
There is at least one player within the Arsenal squad who may benefit from actually playing in the World Cup. Summer signing Gabriel Jesus is with the favourites Brazil who are looking to win their first title since 2002.
Jesus started repaying his transfer fee with five goals in his first eight appearances for the Gunners. Since then, the striker has suffered a goal drought that now extends to eleven games.
Could the timing of the World Cup allow the player to rediscover that goal touch ahead of his return to North London?
Strengthening the Squad
Like all Premier League teams, Arsenal will get the chance to strengthen their squad when the winter transfer window opens in January. The club invested heavily in players in the summer, but new arrivals could still give the team a boost post World Cup.
Former player Emmanuel Petit has said that the club need to strengthen in all areas – defence, midfield and attack. Despite having spent over £100 million in the summer, Petit feels that there is a lack of squad depth.
Cody Gakpo, who scored the Netherlands’ first goal of the 2022 World Cup, is believed to be a target, but the Gunners will face competition for the prolific young striker.
A Step into the Unknown
Nobody really knows what to expect when the Premier League returns on December 26th. Much will depend on whether key players have completed the tournament without suffering significant injuries along the way.
For Arsenal, there is the concern that their momentum has been halted, while two of their key rivals are resting their main strikers. Gabriel Jesus may benefit from the break, and he does need to address a disappointing overall scoring record of five goals in his first 20 games.
Other Gunners players are involved and looking to impress in Qatar. Current focus is on the World Cup but, if Arsenal can regain their form at the start of January, there’s every reason why Gunners fans could be celebrating a title win next May.
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