Paul Merson has questioned Mikel Arteta’s selection call in a 1-0 FA Cup defeat at Southampton, with holders Arsenal bowing out of that competition with a whimper to leave them with little to play for in 2020-21.
The Gunners are still in the hunt for Europa League glory this season, having booked a last-32 date with Benfica, but have been struggling for the kind of form that suggests they can go all the way.
Continental action does, however, offer their only route to major silverware, with another potential avenue of success being blocked off at St Mary’s.
Arteta, who guided his side to FA Cup glory a matter of months after taking the reins at Emirates Stadium, opted to shuffle his pack for a meeting with the Saints.
Rotation came back to haunt him, as Gabriel Magalhaes put though his own net on the south coast, and the oldest prize in English football will be passed on in 2021.
Merson is baffled as to why the Gunners opted to mix things up in an inconsistent campaign, with a top-four finish seemingly out of reach in the Premier League for the north London outfit.
He feels cup glory should have been a top priority, with the former Arsenal midfielder telling Sky Sports: “I don’t know what [Arteta's] doing.
“They aren’t going to win the league. They aren’t going to get in the top four of the Premier League, unless they went on one of the best runs in the history of the Premier League.
“For me, this is the one. This is the one that made Arteta last time round. He came to Arsenal and had a great semi-final and a great final. I honestly can’t believe it.
“This is a more important game than the midweek league game, in my opinion.
“They are not getting relegated and they are not getting in the top four, so for me you don’t really want to end up just getting sixth again and then you are playing Thursday in the Europa – I think that just sends them back. For me, it was a bad decision.”
Arsenal are due to face Southampton again on Tuesday, with Arteta’s side – who have taken 13 points from their last five games – currently sitting tenth in the table, seven points adrift of the Champions League spots.