Today, in The Independent, and yesterday in The Telegraph they wrote that Arsenal have their best squad in 10 years. I would often disagree with the Torygraph’s line on all things related to Arsenal, but not this time.
We must have lost count nearly of how many times the club have had to rebuild the team since the end of the Invincible’s era. 3 captains gone in the last 4 years alone, yada yada. The Boss banked on a golden future of Cesc, Eduardo and Nasri, then on to Arshavin, JvC and Song. Instead we became a feeder club to City and Barcelona as greed and impatience festered in the ranks.
Despite all of these set backs, we have gradually built back up the quality of the squad; I think the signing of Santi Cazorla was the point where the fightback began. Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Mertesacker, Podolski and Giroud have been acquired around the same time. Only the hardcore loonies can still remain adamant that Arsenal had spare funds between 2008 – 2012 for more player purchases and higher wages to splash out on the very best available quality. Ironically they use vaguely quoted statements to support their arguments against Arsene Wenger and the board. Bottom line – the Club didn’t have enough money.
What Arsenal haven’t been able to do until recently is developed significant strength in depth in the squad. As an example in the 2006-07 season Senderos made 25 appearances, Hoyte 26 and Traore 7. In the 2009-10 season Silvestre made 16 appearances, Eastmond 5 and Merida 4. Even in ’11-’12 we had players like Santos, Park and Chamakh filling out the squad. There was clearly too much secondary quality in the overall squad to be sustainable or truly competitive. Even with these grade of players, Arsenal were caught in a bind over wages to players who could threaten to get far more elsewhere from more recklessly spending clubs.
In the excellent book, The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson & David Sally* they have clearly demonstrated that the biggest improvements to a team’s performance over a football season comes from raising the standards of the average journeymen in the squad, rather than squeezing a few minor percentiles of perfection out of the top rated players, i.e. for every minor coaching tweak to get more assists or goal scoring from the likes of an Ozil, – time and effort could be better spent trying to improve someone like the Squid’s defensive performances or whoever the boo boys think is this year’s Squid. (Gervinho, Jenkinson, Park, Nacho, Coquelain, – even Jack has been getting some stick this summer).
The book back’s-up this incredible assertion that making upgrades on the weakest links in the squad gives a higher boost to the overall team’s league performances with some impressively hard data from many many EPL club games over several seasons, and further research from La Liga, Serie A, and Bundesliga. The data doesn’t lie. What is recommended is that the B team players should be of the best calibre we can get – either through in-club coaching to get the best out of the existing players (and Arsene Wenger has turned coal into diamonds many times) or by getting upgrades. Improving the B team results in improving the club’s overall performances. Fact.
The bringing through of more academy produced players has been tortuous – few have been able to survive at Premier League altitude: Serge Gnabry shows immense promise – but I also had high hopes for Eisfeld. I genuinely doubt Zelalem has the physique to challenge in EPL games, although reports on Dan Crowley’s progress are encouraging. It has been really unfortunate that for the last couple of season’s we haven’t had enough opportunities with extended cup-runs against lower league opposition to try out more of the youngsters more often. In fact I think the fans put so-much pressure on Wenger to end the trophy drought we haven’t been able to use the Cup games the way we used to. (remember when the fans were complaining about Arsene Wenger not taking them seriously enough?). The unfortunate consequence is that we have not had enough chances to show where the true talent is in the academy squad. Talent alone is often not enough for many, anyway.
So what is the bottom line?
First XI – Szczesny; Gibbs, Mertesacker, Kos, Debuchy; Arteta, Ramsey; Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis; Giroud
Second XI – Ospina; Monreal, AN Other(?), Chambers, Bellerin(?); Flamini, Wilshere; Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott; Sanogo
Extra Squad Players: Rosicky, Campbell, Gnabry, Diaby (players probably out on loan/sold would be Coquelin and Miyaichi)
It would appear that yet again Arsene Wenger has built a squad with a good age profile, skills and appetite for winning to serve Arsenal for years to come, I would also suggest that we are not likely to get in any players who would push anyone out of the First XI on a regular basis, so I can’t see the likes Khedira or Hummels willing to sit on a bench for 30 or so games in a season. We are never ever going to pay the crazy wages that the likes of the greedy Oligarchs can afford – so forget about the likes of Falcao or Cavani. There are potentially some natural slots in the squad for replacements coming up by next season because Arteta and Rosicky can’t play-on forever and the BFG’s pace will eventually recede to continental drift levels.
If the Club could find a midfielder of Gilberto or Edu’s standard – I would be as happy as Larry, but I don’t see many of those around. I don’t really believe in a team that play like Arsenal having the need to use a pure defensive midfielder anymore – in fact I think it weakens our normal 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations – It is far better to have a more balanced and creative player [Arteta] in the middle of the park – but if he can tackle like a shithouse then that would be all the better. In the meantime I would say speed of thought is more important than brawn.
Ivan and the back-room wonks have been doing their job, thankfully more quietly and out of the public eye for a change, so no more silly boasts about spending money to please the baying mob – just concentrating on getting the sponsors money in and planning the investments wisely. That’s a lot better than can be said of our main domestic rivals; or Tottenham. September’s annual accounts shall be interesting reading – I expect Arsenal may be even richer these days than we think and more superstars will be on their way to N5 – Next Summer. In the meantime we can sit back and watch AOC developing into our next superstar this season, and let Gibbs continue to be the best LB in the league not to get picked for England.
The final line? – Arsene Wenger knows better than anyone how to select a squad for the club for the long term especially now we have the resources to avoid the weaker calibre of players, and our long term future is looking very rosy indeed.
*The Numbers Game: Why everything ou know about football is wrong, by Chris Anderson and David Sally
This post was submitted by Double Canister on Tuesday evening and follows neatly on from yesterday’s post.