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Arsenal Versus Sheffield Wednesday: Fringe Benefits

With Aaron’s untimely injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s struggle for form and Jack not likely to take much part this season, some people are becoming a little edgy as to our options should we lose anyone else. Folk gather in nervous corners speaking in tremulous whispers about what we might do should Santi or Mesut get crocked. They frighten little children into behaving with nightmarish tales of title tilts toppled by tweaks and tears to vital Teutonic tendons or over stretched Spanish sinews. Is there any way to calm these jittery Jonas?

Well I for one am perfectly relaxed about the situation, and here’s why. Any team, whether at the top of the Prem or the bottom of the conference would struggle if they lost their best players. That was true before the season started, before our Welsh wonder’s latest knock and will still be true when he and all the rest are fit again. If you can’t cope with this simple truth, and I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, then you are well and truly buggered.

In any event this all set me to meditate upon those players on the fringes of first team selection, and what with the League Cup providing an obvious opportunity to give some of the superstars a breather, these players will be very much in the manager’s thoughts as well. When the first team were visibly tiring against a determined Everton side on Saturday evening (hardly surprising given the levels they reached in defeating Bayern earlier in the week) I was in conversation with Shotta. It was around about the time that Mathieu Flamini began to unzip his tracksuit top. I suggested that the imminent substitution meant Arsène had seen enough and had decided that we needed to shore things up, deny Everton space in the middle and choke off their attacks which were, by now, becoming a bit of a nuisance. Shotta G concurred. This seemed a good tactical change to make at that stage of the game.

Of course the first thing Flamini did when he got onto the pitch (after his customary slightly too heavy first challenge – naturellement) was to take the game to the opposition in no uncertain terms, popping up more often in and around their area than our own. In fact he got into a great position and very nearly scored. Never mind bringing on a defensive midfielder, it appeared that Arsène had brought on a maverick. This was a man playing with a lightness of the soul, a player who knows he hasn’t long left at the top of the game, has nothing more to prove to anyone and is only too happy to take a few pot shots at goal should the chance arise.

Lee Dixon did a short piece to camera for the Arsenal website recently commemorating Tony Adams. He talked with obvious emotion about he and his captain’s final season before retirement and it was obvious how players reaching the autumn of their careers relish each passing game, suffused as they are with knowledge that every ninety minutes brings them so much closer to their last. This got me thinking about how Mathieu Flamini took his goals against Spurs in the last round of this competition; the panache, the joie de vivre, the devil-may-care attitude. My thoughts inevitably strayed to players at the other end of the career spectrum.

Alex Oxelaide-Chamberlain has stalled somewhat. He has struggled with injuries and has had to sit and watch while others cement their place in the hierarchy. This can only make it harder for him to get back to where he needs to be and it is little surprise that the pressure upon him might make him try the occasional shot which isn’t on, or push himself to take on just one player too many. It looks to my untutored eye as if he isn’t letting his game flow naturally and instinctively enough to allow the good stuff to happen.

You may recall me describing a recent unscheduled trip into space I took when inadvertently leaving my mountain bike behind after jumping from a ledge or outcrop. What brought me to such a pass was partly to do with my tinkering with the machine but overwhelmingly because I  wasn’t riding well. My technique had deserted me and instead of tootling off and finding other diversions, switching focus and letting things come back to me in their own good time, I forced the issue and paid the price.

While I make no comparison with my sedate two wheeled adventures and the life of a professional footballer there is a universal truth here. You cannot compel things to go well. In any sport you can feel when you’re in the right place and you know when you’ve slipped from it.The bind for the pro is they must work through their issues under the unforgiving stare of sixty thousand demanding punters and the unrelenting gaze of multiple television cameras. I can tool off into the woods among the bunnies and the autumn berries when my jumping skills temporarily desert me, Alex doesn’t have that luxury.

I have no doubt the Ox will find his mojo again and stake his claim to a first team place. At his best I think he is the perfect understudy to Alexis. Both have a powerful shot, acceleration and love to go past defenders, neither are particularly suited to defensive work but will do their bit for the team as all players in the modern game must. If he fills in for Aaron over the following few weeks I’m sure we’ll see him relax more and start to show why he excited so many Arsenal fans earlier in his career.

The contrast with younger players fighting for form, desperate to grasp the nettle whenever a glimpse of a first team place appears and a Mathieu Flamini just happy to play and under absolutely no pressure at all, is striking. There is another species of sportsman. This is the rarest of footballers on the planet. A kind of freak of nature hybrid creature, a youngster who can play with the same mindset shown by our battle hardened man from Marseille. A kid with the cool of a veteran. Such a player is Hector Bellerin and he has taken to football at the very highest level with a brio and a bravado that I think is simply breathtaking.

The environment in which he earns his corn is hostile, unforgiving, highly scrutinised and one in which he faces some of the fastest most skilful players in world football. Yet the boy just doesn’t seem to give a hoot. If he gets beaten once or twice (and that is all that happened in the first half against Bayern – he was definitely not ‘schooled’ or ‘out of his depth’) then he not only comes back stronger but sticks two fingers up to a watching world who think he ought to cower on the edge of the 18 yard box praying for the final whistle, runs rampant through one of the best teams on the planet and calmly sets up Mesut Özil for the winning goal. Some players have that special blend of confidence and ability which sets them apart. If the boy has the character to match, and the signs are promising, then he has a hell of a career ahead of him.

The sudden stratospheric upward surge of young Hector has turned French international fullback Mathieu Debuchy into another of our fringe players. This is a hugely experienced footballer, much admired across Europe and at 30 years old is still at the peak of his powers, I don’t think any top team in the land would mind having that kind of defensive cover. Talking of full backs what of our other forgotten man? Kieran Gibbs has built up a deal of experience at a young age. He knows Nacho will need to be injured before he gets any time at left back, so well has the Spaniard been playing, but he will see more substitute appearances as the boss rests and protects Alexis, especially when we are seeing out a narrow victory.

If Aaron’s injury pushed Ox up the pecking order then everyone behind him shuffled forward a place too. Joel Campbell will, I assume, start tonight and he is another lad with talent, quite a bit of experience and a point to prove. Just how he gets enough game time to prove it I don’t know but it would be silly to ignore him. I suppose the best way to guarantee a few more starts is for him to ensure we stay in the league cup starting with a win this evening. Again we do not know what he is capable of because he hasn’t really had a chance to show us.

Where does Calum Chambers fit into all this? What about our captain? What of the many youth team players looking at Hector Bellerin and wondering – could that be me? Mikel Arteta knows his playing days are numbered and accepts this with the dignity synonymous with the man himself. I believe he still has the calmness, skill and football know-how to be a valuable squad member but I accept he probably wouldn’t last a run of of fixtures. And Calum? He played a lot more than he might have expected in his first season but has slipped back down the ladder since. Is he a centre back, full back or defensive midfielder? We’ll find out in the fullness of time of course, but he could do a job in any of the three positions and as such, should disaster strike, he could easily step in while perhaps Santi moves forward.

I’m sure I’ve left people out, these are merely the idle musings of a bruised old man and not the product of any real research. I just wanted to make the point that in the event of injury disaster the future is not as bleak as some might have it. Of course for a second stringer or youth player to do more than just plug a gap, it would require someone to do an Anelka or a Hector or dare I say it do what Francis Coquelin did last season. As unlikely and infrequently as it happens, these players do appear and they do, from time to time surprise people. In fact if it were to happen again under the watchful eye of Arsène Wenger it would hardly be a surprise. The man develops talent in a way other managers can only spend money.

I hope we go all the way in this competition. I want the fringe players to get as many chances on the centre stage as they can. Firstly to keep themselves up to speed so they hit the ground running when called upon by the first team and secondly because I want everyone involved at the club to taste success and to do well. So let’s see if we can progress tonight and while we’re at it I’d rather like it if Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Stoke went through too. It won’t be the end of the world if we get knocked out but it would make it ever harder for those waiting in the wings to strut their stuff.

About steww

Arsenal, books, photography, bass guitar, dog walking, mountain biking, being on the radio, writing, talking too much, failing, making mistakes, buggering on regardless.

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96 comments on “Arsenal Versus Sheffield Wednesday: Fringe Benefits

  1. at least they are passing forward!

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  2. everton 1-1 norwich

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  3. am just happy to see the ball going forward instead of side and back

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  4. we have got more forward since Bielik came on.

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  5. 3 in 9 minutes? Come on Arsenal you can do it…

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  6. tonight is another one of those nights where the performance was just not there, we started with 10 full internationals, and an u21 International, and used another full international and two youth internationals as subs, and yet we done nothing, awful defending on all the goals, created almost nothing and just seemed to accept defeat. Wenger will get the blame from all over the place, but for me once again the attitude of the players stank the place out, where was the performance from any of them that said “Arsene I should be in your first choice 11”, it just was not there, which is just not right.

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  7. 3 in 6 – this is going to be tight.

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  8. OK so we need a goal per 40 seconds. This will break records.

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  9. chelsea have made it 1-1 v stoke in added on time.

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  10. so where was this last 15 mins of forward passing?

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  11. twas close yeah 10 mins moe and we could have nicked it.

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  12. awful performance where we got what we deserved.

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  13. JB™ ‏@gunnerpunner 33m33 minutes ago
    Don’t care about going out of this cup. Really really do care that players who should be playing for their places don’t seem arsed.

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  14. Well done Sheffield. Once they realised we were there for the taking, they took us.
    At least we don’t have to play extra time.
    Bielik looked very useful I thought – why wasn’t he on from the beginning?
    There is a district of Swansea known as Shambles. Just thought I’d mention that.

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  15. I was going to say something about Joel Campbell but I think I’ll sleep on it.

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  16. No more injuries? Phew!

    I don’t buy into this they weren’t arsed bollocks.
    Then again given my feelings about the competition and the match after the two twinges perhaps I’m not one to comment

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  17. And I withdraw my suggestion about pushing Hector forward. It was based on an assumption about the right-back situation which I now realise was erroneous.

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  18. they players are individual good… just not clicking as a team was more their problem… there ought to have been more effort to do so is my only prob with them…

    not much in terms of anticipating passers… players that should have moved forward to recieve quick passes did not… that kind of stuff

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  19. Wenger just said none of the young lads who played for us tonight are ready for this level yet, which I think is very harsh, as for me I would say it was the senior players who did not perform, so how can you expect the kids to do it, also thought that Bielik was good and that Kamara started well, although he faded badly.

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  20. Hull have just leveled v Leicester, with Hayden and Akpom well involved in the goal, Hayden played Akpom in, his shot was parried by the keeper and Hernandez scores.

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  21. Just been over at Yahoo to look at what ahhpened in Stoke vs Chelsea. Costa went off with an injury after 33 minutes and was replaced by Remy. They have photos of both players – Costa in an Atletico shirt and Remy in a Newcastle shirt.

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  22. Sorry, my fingers are worse than AFC’s passing – ahhpened = happened

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  23. While “I like Bielik” has a touch of the presidentials about it at least he showed for the ball and took responsibility. And one or two others may look back and sense an opportunity missed, or one day come to realise that they were not up to not missing it. And in early December or whenever the next round is of the competition that consistently fails to set the pulse racing a few around the team might breathe more easily and enjoy a few days off.

    This might have been the night when Oxlade, Wilshere, Welbeck and Tomas reminded us all of real strength in depth, but I guess there is not much point in having depth on the long term injured list. And I also guess that that is a question that will be at the forefront of the manager’s mind.

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  24. What a terrible performance……

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  25. in a night of disasters maybe we should try and find some positives. Iwobi was good in flashes, Bielik looked a real player when coming on strong and unflappable. Campbell will chase longer than a greyhound chasing a hare and our substitutions are faster than lewis hamiltons pit crew.
    Our reserve back four and flamini in front were poor tonight but the player I was most disapointed in was Glen Kamara, I have seen him play many,many times and he normally plays with character, plays forward and takes the game by the balls which is why he got in in front of Bielik. Like I said you never know how a player will handle the step up and I hope he gets another chance but he blew his oppertunity tonight.
    I think the Ox will end up in the middle so a real shame he wasnt able to play a full 90 today it could of made a big difference. When he was subbed against everton he bent down and felt his leg and I thought he was injured then, so I was surprised he started. I know there was a couple of training sessions in between but I hope he was totally honest about his own fitness.
    Although this might mean we are not distracted by extra midweek games it is also a chance for the squad players to gain confidence we might miss. Oh well onwards and upwards

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  26. “I hope he was totally honest about his own fitness”

    Heh. Unlikely!

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  27. one thing to think about Bielik, in the U21s he plays as a CB and is not so assured there. Hopefully its just part of his education to understand other positions as he looks a different player when in midfield

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  28. Campbell more than anyone else deserved a better result than this tonight… but u rise and fall as a team so cant be helped!

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  29. the other 3 games have gone to penalties

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  30. ts I thought Campbell was awful tonight, his passing and crossing was woeful, even when he had time and space. He worked hard, I’d give him that, but many of the times he chased back was down to the fact he had lost the ball in the first place.

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  31. chelsea lose 5-4 on penalties, Hazard missed their 5th

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  32. by the way Stoke were down to 10 men for all of extra time

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  33. Akpom scored a penalty for Hull in their 5-4 win over Leicester

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  34. Damn Chelsea out too, less games for them

    Jose says no to playing more then one teenager? so a LC run would’ve stretched his squad playing in CL and PL? Did the LC run last season stretch his rebuilt squad and are they still suffering for it? This is a great way to take my mind of the twinges. That’s all they are twinges. Nothing to worry about. Nope.

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  35. at least we still have Hayden and Chuuuba in the next round and chelski cant even beat ten men I wonder how maureen will make out that Arsene was responsible for two clubs going out of the league cup on the same night

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  36. Just a twinge. I get a twinge when I stretch for another twinkie. Nothing to worry about.

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  37. i just thought movement especially going forward was poor. time and again, u expected a player to go behind the defense to receive a pass but they rather stayed near the person with the ball!

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  38. TS its called hiding in plane sight.

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  39. Unless I’ve missed it earlier, but behalf of everyone on PA, bravo The Owls, and well done.
    The best team won on the night, and by some distance.

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  40. WENGER ON OX, WALCOTT AND DEFEAT

    Arsène Wenger faced the media after Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough Stadium on Tuesday. You can read a full transcript of his press conference below:

    on the injuries…
    The injuries are two muscular injuries and the injury damage I do not know. You have to wait 48 hours for the scans to see how big the damage is. It was a bad night at the office, we lost two players and after that we were not good enough, but on top of that you have to congratulate Sheffield Wednesday. They put in a great performance, very resolute, very dynamic and so they deserve their win tonight.

    on the team selection…
    I have to manage the workload of the players and at the end of the day I still think I brought too many experienced players here. We lost two players. Once I lost two players, I had Gabriel and Monreal and I did not bring them on as we could not afford to lose any more players.

    on how they lost…
    I think we had a lot of the ball, we just didn’t make a lot with the ball because we did not create anything. We were too short in midfield especially tonight and then it was down to not conceding anything from set-pieces [or] on on the counter-attack and unfortunately we did that because we lost balls in situations where we should not have lost the ball.

    on if he is concerned by the injuries…
    I’m concerned because our next game is a big game on Saturday, we have the Champions League against Bayern Munich coming up. Already we are now short. To lose two players tonight, two offensive players, is damaging for us.

    on focusing on the Champions League…
    Ideally I would have loved to have won tonight. I will not use that as an excuse but I’m sure as a squad now we can focus on other competitions and I must say, like I said before the game, because of many foreign players playing in the Premier League you have more and more good players playing going down to the Championship and to play with young players against Championship players becomes difficult. The level of the Championship has gone up and you see that once you have not enough of experience to deal with these types of games, you have no chance to win it.

    on the injuries…
    Walcott is a calf and Oxlade-Chamberlain is a hamstring.

    Copyright 2015 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to http://www.arsenal.com as the source

    Read more at http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/20151027/wenger-on-ox-walcott-and-defeat#K7ZzvDmQc6lddJCh.99

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  41. its amazing that so many of our injured players are those able to play wide right – Ramsey, Ox, Theo, Jack, Rosicky, Welbeck. Six right side options injured. Its like over the last few years where we have had CB or LB all out at the same time. and we have Maitland-Niles and Gnabry, two more wide right players out on loan, maybe we should think about recalling them.

    Of course the feeble minded will say Wenger should have bought another 2 players in the summer who could play wide right.

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  42. Disappointing performance and result for our boys, but I’m most concerned about the mounting injuries. I hope Theo and the Ox are not out for long as we cannot afford to lose too many more players if we want to do something special this season.

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  43. Kamara, Iwobi, Bennacer and Bielik became the 831st, 832nd, 833rd and 834th players to represent Arsenal Football Club in a competitive fixture

    Liked by 1 person

  44. I think I’ll just stay away and keep my mouth shut, before I say something I regret. And not about the players…

    Liked by 4 people

  45. New post up

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