Morning all, the dust has begun to settle a bit after Sunday’s game against Swansea. We now have a week to take stock, regroup and prepare ourselves for the game against United on Sunday.
A lot has been said about the litany of injuries we’ve suffered, meaning players are being played out of position which affects our normal game and so on. And certainly those injuries are a hindrance. The lack of full backs is perhaps the most obvious, it leaves the team unbalanced and we have been exposed in that area during recent defeats. To be fair, however, having all four natural full backs out injured at the same with mid-long term injuries time is somewhat unprecedented. I’ve certainly never seen it before.
Further injuries to Vermaelen, the most obvious candidate to replace Santos and Gibbs, and to versatile youngster Francis Coquelin haven’t helped. However, I do wonder if the biggest issue we face is the fact that our squad just isn’t strong enough to cope. I know most teams would struggle to live with those kind of injuries but we’re carrying a lot of players who take up space in the squad and whose contributions are minimal, at best.
These are players that the manager won’t play, for various reasons, or can’t play because their injuries and injury records prevent them from being selected. If you start from the back there’s Manuel Almunia – 4th choice goalkeeper, the manager has long decided his time is up. Vito Mannone, loaned out, would be surprised if he comes back. Sebastian Squillaci – again, the manager will do as much as he can not to play him, such is his lack of faith. There is talk this morning that he’s interesting AS Monaco and you can’t help but think a move is probably best for everyone. He’s been a bad purchase for Arsenal but came with a reasonable reputation. As Koscielny’s reputation has soared, his has plummeted.
Kieran Gibbs, a player Arsene obviously likes, so much so he was willing to let Gael Clichy go a year before he did – only for Mourinho’s arrival at Real Madrid (the intended destination) to scupper the deal. Yet Gibbs, for all the potential Arsene sees in him, is a problem because he’s injury-prone. Just 9 appearances this season. Ok, his problem is exacerbated the absence of Santos who, I’m told, is unlikely to be back before April, but there’s no denying it’s a problem.
In midfield Abou Diaby is traveling to see specialists in the USA and Qatar to see specialists about his ankle. On December 2nd Arsene reported a ‘slight muscular problem’ and said he’d be back in 10 days. Let’s be brutally honest about this, Diaby is struggling to save his football career. The litany of injuries he’s suffered since Dan Smith’s tackle is a crying shame but sooner or later we have to make a decision about his worth. I know Arsene won’t want to give up on him but the reality is he’s played a total of 25 minutes of football this season and we need more than that. His presence in the squad is restrictive now. It’s sad that a player has been so blighted by injury but for how long can we allow the injury to affect the squad?
There’s certainly a measure of experience and usefulness to Rosicky and Benayoun, even if both are too lightweight to start games, while up-front we’ve got three players in our squad whose contributions range from minimal to absolutely nothing. Andrei Arshavin has two assists recently but 1 league goal in his last 35 Arsenal appearances tells its own story. Marouane Chamakh, similarly, 1 goal in well over a year. Ju Young Park, well, what was the point at all? Yes, we left our summer striking business late but was this the best we could do?
A player we actively stole from under the noses of Lille, who had a reasonable reputation in France and internationally, who has yet to play a single second of Premier League football and we’re in the middle of January. And this is in the middle of a period when we’re struggling for goals. It’s almost as if this wasn’t an Arsene signing and the manager’s reluctance to use him is borne out of that. Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstances, Park is taking up a place in the squad and has, thus far, contributed nothing of value bar a goal in the Carling Cup which, at this point in time, means nothing because it’s a competition we’re no longer in.
So let’s recap, for various reasons we have Almunia, Mannone, Squillaci, Gibbs, Diaby, Arshavin, Park, Chamakh, all of whom the manager doesn’t have any faith in, or can’t rely on, yet whose presence in the squad does have an effect. It means that there’s an over-reliance on the 14-15 players he does trust. It means that those players are being used, perhaps, more often than they should be, leading to fatigue, mentally and physically. It means that when they don’t perform our options are limited, to say the very least. It means that competition for places is minimal.
Arsene talks about us having a big squad, which is true, but what’s the point of a squad in which you have 8 players who give you little or nothing? It’s an impossibility to turn around now and say ‘8 out, 8 in’, nobody expects that, but surely as the club plan their transfer strategy one of the key areas they have to look at is making the squad more efficient. We can all want players to improve the first team but maybe if we had a stronger bench to choose from, players who can start a game and give you a performance/goal threat/solidity at the back, then it maintains the freshness of your ‘first choice’ players, as well as keeping them on their toes a bit.
I can see, very clearly, how our first XI could be improved but at the same time I can’t help but think better investment in the squad as a whole might well be a huge benefit too. And look, I know there are difficulties with some of these players. The manager’s reluctance to call time on Diaby, a player he really likes who he’s loath to see kicked out of the game. Gibbs, a player with potential who may well toughen up, but some of the others are just obvious. They’re deadweight and when you’re heading into a fire-fight, as we are for a top four finish, you cannot carry so many of them in your squad.
Arsene has urged his squad to ‘wake up and focus‘. A very reasonable suggestion, but it might just be something he, and those involved in our transfer strategy, might want to take note of too. In a time when there are restrictions on the size of your squad, it’s hugely important that you maximise its effectiveness and I’m not sure that’s something we’re doing at this moment in time,