Teams win matches….Squads win titles.
I don’t know the author of the statement but no truer words have been said. You do not need any empirical evidence further than Arsenal to prove the concept. Lack of qualitative squad depth can be attributed as the primary reason we have struggled recently to add trophies to our cabinet.
While injuries to key squad members is a more popular opinion usually put forward, the root cause of this problem is attributable to the lack of quality options. A manager needs to trust the ability of any player he calls on to make a positive contribution. Having these options serve the quadruple objectives of allowing the manager to confidently rotate his side, keep a lot more players away from the injury room, ensure performances are of a high standard irrespective of starting eleven and finally makes it more difficult for opposition managers to plan against your team pre and during the match.
For a long time, this has not been the situation at Arsenal as stadium commitments and Wenger’s financial frugality had ensured the club relied on less experienced players to contribute when the first team struggled. This season, however, the squad looks very well assembled. The manager speaking after the win over Stoke at the weekend echoed my thoughts too:
I have top quality on the bench – there’s not one player you can question. – Wenger
While Wenger, has never been one to call into the question the quality of any squad he has, in this instance, it is correct, and our results thus far have confirmed it. Our only loss in the league came at a time when reinforcements had not come in and players from the Euros were yet to be fully fit or even returned.
I’ll attempt to review the squad by positions
GoalKeepers (Cech, Ospina, Martinez)
Evidently, our best-covered position on the pitch. In Petr Cech we have one of the most experienced keepers in Premier League history, whose prowess doesn’t only save us points bar being hopeless at penalties, his abilities emit confidence that permeates through our defenders. Ospina, his deputy, is a regular Colombian international whose skills qualify him to start for many top Premier League sides. You only have to look at the confusion with goalkeepers at Liverpool and Man City to appreciate the quality we have sitting on our bench. What he lacks in height, he makes up for effectively with shot stopping.
While his organisational abilities might be hampered by possibly by a language barrier, you would struggle to find a better No. 2 goalie in the Premier League. Wenger deserves credit for his management of the goalkeeping situation at the club and guaranteeing Ospina Champions League games has proven to be an effective decision in ensuring he remains.
Blast from the Past: Manuel Almunia
Right Back (Bellerin, Gabriel, Jenkinson, Debuchy)
To be honest, while, all the arguments during the summer were about our need to sign a striker, I was just as worried about our defensive flanks especially at right back. With Hector Bellerin’s recent layoff due to injury, performances by Carl Jenkinson heightened my fears. Throwing Gabriel into the position was a gamble even the manager openly admitted after the game against Bournemouth:
“I had Coquelin who was ready to play right-back as well. But I have gone for Gabriel because he is more a defender and he’s very quick. “And he adapted well. I watched tapes of him of playing full-back at Villarreal, two or three times he played left-back.“I found only one tape of him playing in Brazil as a right-back, and I must say it was not super convincing. But I think today he did well.”
However, the Brazilian shut everyone up with his excellent performances. Usually, when someone of his skillset is deployed in a wide position, the expectation is for them is to simply hold the fort and not cause too much disruption to the defensive shape. Gabriel did a lot more than that. Expectedly, he limited the pace of our attacks down the right side as the reintroduction of Bellerin against Stoke easily showed. But, Gabriel was always going to fall short on that index given the astronomical performances the young Spaniard has consistently put up since his debut. He already has 12 assists to his name, surpassing the 11, Bacary Sagna had in five years playing that role.
What this portends for Carl Jenkinson’s career is left for the man himself to imagine.
Blast from the Past: Emmanuel Eboue
Left Back (Monreal, Gibbs)
When Gibbs finally departs this earth, only these words would be fit enough to describe him. “Dedicated, Always Ready For The Cause”. In an era where prima donnas are showing up in football, it is difficult to find someone with his ability ever willing to contribute to the team without moaning about not featuring consistently in the starting eleven. Technically, Nacho Monreal is just a little better defensively compared to Gibbs, an attribute that might have come from longer years playing the game. Gibbs is just as capable going forward and his recent contributions against FC Basel away in the Champions League further highlights this.
While, strikers, usually grab all the headlines, Nacho Monreal last season was one of the club’s most consistent performers. His decision making was suspect when he joined but a brief spell at center back seemed to have ignited a new Monreal. His growth has also been rewarded with an invitation to the Spanish national team.
Blast from the Past: Ignasi Miquel
Center Back (Koscienly, Mustafi, Gabriel, Holding, Per, Chambers)
It is already established that Koscienly is the best central defender in the league. The fact that our only loss thus far in the league occurred when none of our first choice pairings was available further buttresses the effectiveness of the partnership that has emerged at center back. Kos has remained the central figure in our defence, playing with Vermaelen, Per and Gabriel and that wealth of experience does not only show in his performances but has helped Mustafi settle instantly.
In Gabriel, though prone to the occasional rush of blood errors, we have quality representation. Given Mustafi’s recent injury, it would be interesting to see if he and Koscienly can replicate the form Koscienly and Mustafi had. Speaking about the pair early on in the season, Wenger admitted being surprised at how quickly their partnership had developed
‘Koscielny is the leader because he is captain, but Mustafi looks like he is taking leadership at the back,’ he said.
‘What is surprising is how quickly he has integrated into the team at the back and how quickly they have formed a pair that works well together.
Mustafi is a player who is highly focused. On that front he is a typical German. He wants to do the job well every day and he speaks his mind. He is vocal in the dressing room. ‘He is not a quiet guy who hides. He speaks out with his opinion and communicates a lot. Even when you isolate the pictures of the game and look at that he speaks a lot during the game.
Defending is just as much about partnership as individual ability and communication helps partnerships form much more quickly, an attribute Mustafi seems to have in abundance. Hopefully, Gabriel would have worked hard enough on his to make things easier at the back. In Rob Holding, we have one of the best young defensive prospects in England and his ability is already evident for all to see when he makes appearances. Per and Chambers are outsiders for now.
Blast from the Past: Squilacci, Silvestre, Senderos
Midfield (Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Xhaka, Coquelin, Ramsey, Elneny)
Easily one of our most debated positions on the pitch. As is, only Mesut Ozil seems guaranteed a starting position with Santi Cazorla out with long term injury. The amount spent on players such as Kante and Pogba further highlights the quality we have in Coquelin, Xhaka and Elneny. The manager seems undecided about his favourite pairing behind Ozil and the decision is made more complicated by the variance in quality they all bring.
While Coquelin is a tackler, Xhaka is a ball winning midfielder with an eye for a pass and thunderous shots in his legs. Elneny is a box to box hard worker who guarantees you protection and energy for 90 minutes all across midfield. Their strengths also highlight their weakness, Coquelin does not give you are outlet out of defence as much as Santi or Xhaka would, Xhaka has a knack for fouling which has already seen him suspended this season and has directly led to goals conceded against Swansea and Stoke. Elneny offers you only safe options with his short range of passing.
Fewer players divide opinions as much as Aaron Ramsey. Deployed all across midfield or wide forward positions, Ramsey has struggled to create an identity for himself in this Arsenal side. His position is not helped by being constantly deployed out of position in a bid to integrate him into the team. Overall, getting the best out of our midfield would mean the manager constantly reviewing it based on opposition.
Blast from the Past: Denilson
Forwards (Sanchez, Giroud, Perez, Iwobi, Walcott, Oxlade, Welbeck)
Our third choice forward (Lucas Perez) has eight appearances and has scored five goals this season. Our second choice forward, (Giroud) making mostly substitute appearances has thirteen appearances and has scored five goals. Our first choice forward (Sanchez), twenty-one appearances scoring thirteen goals. In total, our forwards average 1.8 goals per game, with two of them hardly getting game time.
Moreover, the versatility of our forward options seems more of a threat than their numbers itself. Bar Giroud, the whole lot can play successfully anywhere across the forward line. Theo Walcott and his coffee machine have scored ten goals this season already, Oxlade has already surpassed his previous record at the club with six goals, Alex Iwobi seems to have found his scoring touch again and Danny Welbeck is yet to feature.
While the world led by Alan Shearer continue to debate who is world class or not, Wenger seems to have settled for strong partnerships across his front three. The constant in-game alternating of positions across the field have made us difficult to plan against and helped us score a variety of goals this season especially as Mesut Ozil has also featured heavily.
Blast from the past: Niklas Bendtner, Gervinho
Overall, every team will have their star players, and currently Sanchez and Ozil seem to be ours. They might not make headlines, but I will add Koscienly and Coquelin in that bracket. However, if we are going to challenge for any title this season, the manager must ensure he makes use of his full squad in a manner that strikes a balance between consistency that can grow partnerships and rotation that can refreshen the squad. This will give it new ideas when it needs one and create a hunger in the hearts of players on the fringes so they are sharp and ready to go once called upon.
Not an easy task if you ask me, but I am not paid all the money he earns to worry about it.
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