Good morning, welcome back to real life if you’ve off work until now. And it’s nice to come back with an Arsenal team sitting top of the table.
There’s lots of talk this morning about experience, and how the age profile of this side means that they can dig out results that, perhaps, more raw teams in the past could not. Olivier Giroud says:
We have experienced players like Flamini, Per, Petr and even Lolo (Koscielny). We have a good relationship between young players and experienced players. The older players need to bring confidence to the youngest and lead them.
While Arsene Wenger believes that his team are more set-up for a title challenge than in the past:
I think they are more experienced now. When we moved into the stadium here, on the day we could play everybody off the park but, when you had to dig deep, come out with your knowledge and your experience, it was a bit more difficult.
It seems obvious to say that a blend of youth and experience is ideal and probably what any manager should aim for, but it’s not always easy to find. Look at somebody like Mathieu Debuchy, a highly experienced French international who could be part of a squad that challenges for the Premier League. Instead, he’s looking for a way out because he’s not playing due to the emergence of a talented youngster like Hector Bellerin.
On paper you might have said Bellerin understudying Debuchy until his time comes would be the perfect blend, but when it’s the other way around the manager can’t really legislate for the older head’s desire to go and play to further his international ambitions rather than stay and fight and contribute as and when he’s needed. So it’s not always cut and dried.
In the past, of course, we went down a very inexperienced route, looking for a group of young players to grow together. It was a risk and it ultimately didn’t work out. One of the main reasons for that was the lack of guidance from players who had been around the block a bit, or having the wrong kind of experienced player tasked with that. Would some of our younger players have learned more Gilberto or William Gallas? There have been odd decisions, but I don’t think there’s any arguing now that the mix is pretty much spot on.
In most of our key positions we have genuine experience. A goalkeeper that has won pretty much everything in club football and whose performances are a testament to that; centre-halves that are the right age and who have played together for a long time; Monreal at left-back; further forward Ramsey is at the age where he can no longer be considered a kid; Alexis and Ozil have done a lot at their previous clubs and now take positions of huge responsibility at Arsenal; Giroud is 29 and has won the league in France; even Theo Walcott at coming up on 27 is someone who should have something to offer in that regard.
Then you add youth, where it’s a bit more hit and miss. Someone like Hector Bellerin has done fantastically well in general but there’s often a plateau in a player’s development and there are signs that we might be seeing that with him. Similarly, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has yet to really fulfil the potential he has a player and has struggled at times this season. Calum Chambers is coming out of one of those aforementioned plateaus, and it remains to be seen exactly where he’s going to play in the long-term.
Joel Campbell has gone from someone on the very fringes of the squad to a valuable member of it, but at 23, with four seasons of first-team football under his belt and 50+ internationals, he’s skirting the boundaries of inexperience anyway.
Nevertheless, it’s an interesting mix of players, and at the moment injuries rob us of some of those players who bridge the gap between the two extremes, like Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere. It means our bench has a youthful look to it at times, and as much as we love to think youngsters can come on and make the difference, the reality is that Alex Iwobi and The Jeff are probably a little too raw for a team going for the title.
It places a big burden on those who are fit and playing every week, and I do think the physical effects of that have been apparent, particularly against Newcastle. It’s why there’s been such praise for the character and spirit of the side, to be able to win when playing badly is seen as a positive thing, and I think we all understand that. Still, in as much as you want to have a mix of experience and youth in your team, you also want to maintain the right mix of, dare I say it –mental strength, and physical prowess, hence the need to get players back and boost the squad where possible.
Ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup tie against Sunderland, the manager says he’ll be giving some of the players a little break:
Of course I will give them a rest. I will give them a couple of days, an extra rest, but you never know what shape they come back in. It depends what you do when you have a rest. You can come back more tired!
The benefit of experience, hopefully, is that these guys will use that time wisely. It’s unlikely they’re going off clubbing or anything like that, because there must be an awareness that they have a real chance for the league this season, and that the best way to maximise that chance is to be as professional as possible at all times. I would be very surprised if we saw pictures of one of our players coming out of a nightclub with his pants around his ankles.
For all the talk of experience, maybe the key word we’re missing out on is intelligence. It strikes me that’s a quality that isn’t often mentioned as much, but one which this squad seems to have plenty of. Let’s hope that can make the difference.
James and I will be here with you later this morning with an Arsecast Extra. If you have questions or topics for discussion, please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra. It should be available to you before lunchtime.
Until then, have a good one.