If The Arsenal make it through the Champions League qualifying matches they are guaranteed to play 48 matches of competitive football this season. Reasonable form and a bit of luck with Cup draws would see that up to about 54 games. That’s a lot of football – and when every game matters and is keenly contested it puts a lot of pressure on the squad.
At times matches come thick and fast: August alone is pretty congested.
Charity Shield against City.
Crystal Palace (h).
Six games in three weeks, all of them important and one involving a trip overseas.
There will be time enough to analyse each of those games, but for now I think it’s fair to suggest it’s unlikely the same players will feature each time, as tactical requirements, injuries, possible suspensions and simple rotation will all play their part in selection, as indeed will be the current form of each player. Substitutions, both tactical and forced will also come into play, so as we are constantly reminded (when pundits want to put us down) squad depth is as important as the starting XI if realistic title challenges are to be considered. If you were setting the spread on the amount of players who’d kick a ball in anger in those August matches you’d probably set it 15 to 17 -and I think I’d be a buyer in that market.
Which is why all the talk about who’ll make the best XI, while a great topic over a couple of pints, ever so slightly misses the point.
There is more than a hint of hypocrisy in the air too, as many who spent last season saying that Arsenal had no chance of winning the title because of lack of depth and the unwillingness of the manager to rotate are now only too ready to consign Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla to the scrap heap.
Jack interests me because his situation can be used both ways by the Arsenal haters outside the club and the Arsene haters among the fan base. This is how it goes: “when we sign (let’s say Khedira for argument’s sake) Jack won’t make the team, and this proves he isn’t really top quality and this is because he was over-rated by AW, or not developed by AW, or AW has caused him to have so many injuries.” Or, alternatively, “when we sign Khedira Jack won’t make the team and this is a classic example of a foreign manager acting against the interests of the national side.” Either way, it is Arsenal and Arsene’s fault and the disappointing thing to me is that I don’t hear this comment: “When we sign Khedira, it will be excellent because at various times during the season (and perhaps even at various times during the same match) Khedira will play alongside Jack, and he will play alongside Ramsey, and this will take the pressure of all three of them and they will benefit and learn from each other. “ How many games is it realistic to hope a player starts in – 30, 35, 40? Not much more than that I think, and there will be plenty of opportunity for Jack and Aaron whoever else is signed.
The role of the substitute in the modern game is also interesting, and is worth a brief mention. I am guessing that statistics suggest that the optimum time for a tactical substitution is around 65 minutes on the basis that there is less time for injuries across the field to occur (at least one player needs to be kept for emergency) but enough time for the substitution to have an effect on the course of the game. If used efficiently it can either give a sense of the cavalry coming to relieve a beleaguered situation or of a coup de grace being delivered when the opposition has been softened up and just needs to be dispatched with a killer blow. Both of these scenarios were in evidence in the recent Cup Final, and it almost felt like bullying when Jack and Tomas injected match-winning pace in the closing stages.
I am not suggesting players be only used as substitutes because few would be happy with just that role, but do feel that any talk of squad composition should bear substitutions in mind. A clever manager will make his players very aware of why they are on the bench and will have rehearsed the various scenarios when they might be called upon to make a contribution. I like the thought of a fully fit Podolski coming on with 20 minutes to go, scoring a goal, starting the next match and then perhaps making way for Campbell after 65 minutes. It is never as simple as that of course but it illustrates a general point.
There was dismay among the Twitter ranks yesterday as various speculations became hard fact among the doubters.
First of all came the news that Thomas Eisfeld had left the club to join Fulham, and this was seen by many as an act of gross stupidity on behalf of the club. Despite not many having seen him play that much, he had become a something of a fan’s favourite, and he did have a magnificent match against Reading in the astonishing game two seasons ago. But he was older than many thought (21) and was increasingly unlikely to make a breakthrough into our first team. I suspect it will be a good move for him and for Fulham and I hope it works out.
Hot on the heels came an article by John Cross in which he speculated that both Wilshere and Diaby could play a holding role and that therefore the search for another midfielder was not absolutely essential. Of course any mention of Diaby is likely to get certain supporters incensed (I always see him as human litmus paper, there to reveal a fan’s true allegiance – the acid test, if you like), but I was a little disappointed to see so many come out so strongly against Jack, especially as some had been railing against the decision to transfer Eisfeld only hours earlier. And so mischievously I thought of the following scenario, which while unlikely has some logic behind it, and wondered what the reaction would be.
Liverpool are in the process of building a new side, and under Brendan Rodgers are very much a work in progress. It is no doubt heresy to say this on an Arsenal blog, but I think he is a good manager and it amuses me that my local club, Reading FC, let him go because they simply didn’t understand what he was trying to do. Rodgers knows he will need to replace Gerrard soon (and England need to replace him immediately). Fuelled by paper talk and awareness of fan disaffection expressed through social media he senses that Wilshere would be willing to leave Arsenal and take over that holding role at Anfield. And if that were to happen, would the Arsenal fans still be saying that Wilshere couldn’t play anymore, or that he needed to do this or that if he were ever to play the deeper role, or would they realise that they had yet again contributed to a great player deciding to leave The Emirates behind ?
You see, Jack is good enough to play in a variety of midfield roles, just as all of our players are: of course he could be a DM, or a B2B, or an AM, or a WM, or a faux 9, because he regularly takes up all of those positions, and several more besides that as yet haven’t been given names, in most of the games he plays. It is The Arsenal way for players to switch positions, and that is one of the joys of following the team.
So with regard to transfers I think we are in the privileged position of not needing to sign anyone new (apart from a reserve GK), because with even average luck with injuries we have enough players to rotate successfully throughout the whole 54 game season. But we also have the money (quite a lot of money, actually) to be able to add to that highly-talented squad should the right top quality players become available. And if we do add a Pogba or a Cavani, then who knows we might just be looking at a 60 game season, which would see all of our very best players more than happily occupied, and perhaps even bring a smile to those fans who apparently have already forgotten we have signed Alexis Sanchez.
Today’s piece was by @foreverheady .Thanks Tim.