Cruel To Be Kind – Fixture Pile-Up Can Work In Arsenal’s Favour

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he never existed. Rupert Murdoch isn’t that subtle; his media machine heralds its existence so loudly that the builders gave up restoring the walls of Jericho.

And Sky – along with BT – are the devils, according to Arsène.

Fixtures vex the manager, as the have frequently in the past. Playing three games in seven days  is, he claimed, “cruel”. Not as cruel as his solution which switching Brighton vs Newcastle to Monday night. It was a bad enough journey back for the Barcodes after a 4pm Sunday kick-off. So much for solidarity with the fans. But why attack the fixture which has the longest gap between games?

It’s straight out of the Mesut Özil school of ‘let me show you round my £10m mansion and £300k’s worth of cars’. Frank McLintock never took you around his four-bed detached after the 1971 double, did he? So why the interest in a virtual tour now? Unless the German thought he could smoke out some prospective buyers…

He’ll probably ask Arsenal to buy his house from him when he leaves next summer, just to make the move easier.

Had Arsène declared playing Thursday in Barysaw and then Sunday lunchtime against Brighton was “cruel”, I’d say he was on the right track. Why not a Sunday night game just for the hell of it? The congestion is the result of failure to attain the minimum standard in the Premier League; Wenger set the benchmark himself and he, along with the squad, failed miserably to achieve it. The consequence is this horror show of fixtures.

I am, however, going to stick my neck out and declare that it shouldn’t be an issue; these are both matches we must look at as winnable with defeat unthinkable.

R ‘n’ R Baby

He’s made his intentions clear. The team will be experienced and the bench young. Having rested most of the first XI against Doncaster, he has the option to rotate tomorrow night once again. But let’s not forget that after Sunday, most players face two games in a fortnight. The rest comes then. Those who don’t travel  can be given a few days off to rest, recuperate and generally enjoy themselves.

However, by rotating the squad, it doesn’t mean a League Cup side. I don’t hold truck with us taking the group stage of the Europa League lightly. We can when we’ve reached twelve points; that will see us through, probably in first place as well. The advantage comes later in the fixture list; Belgrade at home, rendered meaningless, is the game before the trip to the Etihad. Köln is after the North London Derby. I know which two fixtures I’d want to be resting the XI for.

Therein is a flaw of Arsène’s in recent years but in fairness to him, a number of his peers struggle with the concept as well. Rotation at Arsenal tends to be a swathe of the side rather than judicious resting of one or two players on a regular basis. Some of that is down to the horrendous injury lists but others is down to prioritising fourth or the folly of chasing a Champions League dream, ahead of the domestic cups that represented our best chance of honours in the NZ betting.

There was and is a middle way, particularly with the squad we have now. Having youngsters on the bench is one answer, playing them in the favoured position another. Wenger may chose Maitland-Niles over Bellerin tomorrow; Giroud over Lacazette almost certainly, with Wilshere, in for Ramsey; it’s a quality of player we’ve not possessed in the past.

I’m Running

Mesut Özil remains a question mark, with Martin Keown grabbing a biro and drawing it very firmly, leaving an indentation on the pages underneath. The German is an easy target but I thought Keown’s jibe about Özil’s commitment a bit of a cheap shot.

Sections of the media will love it and his languid style lends itself to the question. I’ve joked previously about his injury being convenient or Cesc-esque but honestly, I can’t see the German deliberately not trying because it weakens his negotiating position to have a poor season. The only result of that is to drive his wages down when he’s looking to double them at least.

It doesn’t make sense for that but then little in football does.

’til Tomorrow.


46 thoughts on “Cruel To Be Kind – Fixture Pile-Up Can Work In Arsenal’s Favour

  1. Ospina

    Chambers, Mertesacker, Holding, Monreal
    Walcott, Wilshere, Ozil, Iwobi
    Giroud, Akpom

    What do the rest of you reckon Thursday’s line up will be?

  2. Morning All.

    Arsene has rotated and deapite what most will say, when he has for the League Cup its with squad players and two or three youth players. The difference now is that our squad players are a bit better. I do wonder though what Arsene actually meant by that, will Maitland-Niles start centrally next to Jack or will we see him as a WB again opposite Nelson.

    Ozil, well for all the talk of Ramsey being divisive, Ozil takes probably the most criticism with it going az far as being blamed for goals conceded which is funny because there are 2 midfielders, 5 defenders and a GK that should help him out.

  3. HenryNorrisDialSquare,

    Theo——Giroud—-Ozil or Iwobi

    If we go with a back 4

    Chambers—Mert—Holding—-Sead or Nacho
    -Theo——-Jack or Ozil————Iwobi

  4. HenryNorrisDialSquare,

    Isn’t Chambers out injured?

    Our lack of WB cover does beg the question of why we do not give a chance to players from the academy side who play that role rather than play other youngsters out of position? Surely at a club like AFC the academy players in every position should be good enough to step up if needed and do the basics. That certainly would have been the expectation prior to the PL era.

  5. Morning all.
    I get the feeling AW prefers Maitland as a wingback. I fancy Elneny may start at DM.
    I would assume Nelson, JW, Giroud, Walcott are all nailed-on starters.
    I understand JRA is struggling with a minor injury.
    I don’t envisage seeing Chuba start, I fancy his Arsenal career is essentially over – it certainly has no future.
    It’d be better, IMO, to see Nketiah get a run-out.

  6. C,

    Chambers is injures, so swap Chambers for Mustafi. I also wouldn’t at all be surprised to see one of Elneny or Maitland-Niles played there as Arsene uses their versatility.

  7. Jonny,

    He probably won’t get a nod but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was used as a CB. The real shame is that Bielik is out injured because I think it would be really interesting to see what Arsene would do / chose between Chambers, Holding and Bielik. I know most think it would be simple: Chambers and Holding but I don’t think that is the case especially with how Arsene has gone about this season with Chambers and Holding.

  8. C,

    Not sure Nelson as a WB works. I thought he struggled in that role against Donny and this is a step up. He doesn’t look like he’s been given much instruction in the defensive part of the role, which I think is really harsh on him. I’d like to see him doing his work at the other end of the pitch, so playing as a winger rather than a WB.

  9. Wavey,

    I would too prefer him as a winger and think he is obviously better there. As natural with any young winger, he is learning the defensive side and I think for as good as Chambers is as a communicator (something that was talked about as a strength of his during the summer and last year) I think it was difficult for them to communicate as they were both feeling there way through the match. I think Nelson would actually do better with somebody like Mustafi behind him to help him through the match. The other thing and probably the most important thing is not burning Bellerin out early in the season.

  10. I do not think that Wenger has a monopoly on decrying a packed fixture list. The chief protagonist of unwanted fixture list pile-ups, as he saw it, was the unlamented Ferguson, who was always bitching that ‘they’ were out to ‘get’ him and his teams, and hiding behind his imaginary drawbridge in the old ‘them against us’ tactic — that in fairness seemed to work for him.

    Maureen too, has beefed about the fixtures ever since his early Chelsea days and has continued to blather now he is at ManU.

    Personally, I took the use of the word ‘cruel’ to refer to the physically demanding toll on the players when required to play 3 competitive games in less than a week, but as English is not AW’s first language perhaps he might have better chosen to use the term ‘exhausting’ instead.

    On the other hand, maybe he thought it was ‘cruel’ for those fans forking out copious wads of money to follow their team. Who knows? I am sure the Board could not care less either way.

  11. Actually, Frank had a player feature in a programmer in the Double season. I can’t check it as I am sitting in a caravan in a gale atm. However, I have memories of his cocktail cabinet, an unprepossessing semi and some golf clubs. There might have been a Cortina.

  12. Hi Wavey, C,

    I did not see the Donny game live, but guys who did agreed that Rees did not pull up any trees in that game. The problem with positions in footballing terms is that there probably is no such thing as a Winger, as used in days of yore. All players are expected to ‘do more’ in the modern era, and people like Walcott, when and if he plays, is expected to tackle back and cover the RB – even though he is useless at that.

    Nelson from the comments made perhaps falls into the Theo group – OK on the wing, but not good for much more. I happen to think there should be room in a team for out and out specialists in certain positions, with the Winger being one of them.

    It is odd to speak in those terms where Arsenal are concerned, because we often see CBs charging upfield leaving the defence ……. well, defenseless …… and not just the CBs, but the FBs too, and the laughably named Midfield Holding players especially, because Rambo, Coquelin and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, leave their positions prisoners to fortune, and try to become ersatz CFs.

    Actually, on reflection, that indicated that Rees Nelson is perfect in the Arsenal set-up. 🙂

  13. Not wishing to name drop, but I had a chat with Charley George a few weeks back, and Said how hopeful I was that Rees would become one of those players destined to become an Arsenal legend, to which Charlie replied – I hope you are right — but he looked like he wanted to show off his tricks with step-overs and the like, rather than doing his job of getting the ball into the most threatening situation for the opposition.

    He went on to acknowledge Rees’s tender years would have something to do with that, and also that Ronaldo did the same thing when he first played for Manure – so, if Rees became half as good as him he would be doing well.

  14. HenryB,

    When he first appeared for Utd, Ronaldo did display some of his favourite tricks but I suspect Old Rednose soon had a word in his shell like.

  15. Playing Maitland-Niles at left wing back is a classic Wenger creation. The bloke is right footed, and can’t cross with his left. Stupid.

    As for Ozil…the team has clearly played much better without him slowing the play down. Sell him to one of the teams in Constantinople.

  16. As Ronaldo had admitted that his mum had almost agreed a deal with AW to sign him up to Arsenal, I was doubly gutted when at the last minute he signed for Manure instead, I doubly disliked him thereafter.

    I have to admit, like everyone else, that he became a great player — and you are right, Orson, I think that Fergiebum would and did tell him a) to stop going over too easily claiming free kicks (not too successfully) and b) to cut the crap and focus on what was essential. (very successful)

    I still think he is a prick!

  17. HenryB,

    You make a valid point but I do think that part of the problem more than anything is the system. For instance, I watched the Madrid v Dortmund match yesterday and all the talk of ACM and wingers constantly tracking back, they left that to the pivots and defenders while they focused on pressing and closing down thee oppositions defenders and pivots. I know we aren’t them but I think its part of the problem that Arsenal as a whole has.

    The real shame is that even watching the PL, you might see a winger or ACM drop to help out but they by and large leave it to the pivots and defenders to do their job while they focus on attacking. Its strange that all too often the criticism of players like Nelson, Ozil, Theo and others is that they don’t track back or tackle well but then you see players like Welbeck lauded for it. Last time I checked, and I haven’t manged 100000000000000000000 matches, but aren’t you attackers suppose to focus on attacking and scoring goals, the midfield pivots and defenders focused on defending and getting the ball to the attackers and not focus on scoring goals.

    This brings me back to Nelson, I feel for him because playing as a WB he is forced to defend more and its clear he is learning on the job but when it was time to attack its what he does. At 17 years old, first off, any criticism is ridiculous because he is learning a position that is supposed to be for a RB or a player like Welbeck or Moses who are hard working wingers. Nelson should be playing as a winger but at Arsenal our wingers and ACM’s get criticized for not tracking all the back to their box to defend and our defenders and FB’s are criticized for not always making the right pass in the final third.

    Its the most backwards system I have seen.

  18. Well said, C.

    Actually, I did say there should be room in any team for specialist roles — and one of those is the winger’s role – the other is the CF — and the two go together ham and eggs! 🙂

    Now you have typed -100000000000000000000 matches more than once – which goes something like this;
    100,000,000,000,000,000,000 matches or 100 million, million, million matches, or one hundred million, trillion matches.

    So if you have not seen that many ……… you are hardly alone!!! 😀

  19. HenryB,

    I am with you about their needing to be specialist but the question that I have is why is it so difficult for Arsene and Arsenal to be able to put a system in place that suits the players that we have. For instance, even at say a club like Southampton or Everton; they have specialists or players that thrive doing something so they have a system that is in place that takes advantage of their strengths. At Arsenal, well everything is ass backwards.

    O well, come on you Gunners!

    Well its good not to be alone 😉

  20. HenryB,

    Hi Henry,

    I don’t have an issue with players being adaptable and a winger being able to drop back and help out, or even being able to fill in at wing back is no bad thing. But there has to be some degree of training in that role otherwise the player is likely to struggle in his defensive duties. Players like Victor Moses, Valencia and Ashley Young have developed into wing backs, or even full backs by working on the defensive side of their game on the training ground. They may not be brilliant in the role, but they are more than competent. I’m not sure how much time Nelson would have had to work on the defensive side of his game in training. That probably doesn’t matter too much against Doncaster, but I suspect it will be a different matter on Thursday. I’d rather we weren’t experimenting with players in unfamiliar positions in genuinely competitive games.
    I’m also not that keen on young players being used as utility players in too many positions. You end up with players not being able to nail down a specific position and not developing to their potential. That said, a winger playing as FB or WB isn’t a big leap.

  21. Wavey,

    I suppose what I am saying, and C as well, I think, is that taking the current Arsenal situation, there does not appear to be much in the way of training in differing roles — tho I could be wrong, as I cannot pretend to know all that goes on – or even anything. 🙂

    Theo takes a lot of stick, even tho over the years he still gets criticised for not tracking back, but that is just ridiculous because he is just not a defender – and why should he be.

    That said, you put up a very interesting argument – difficult to argue against. 😀

  22. Great post Yogi

    We need to have younger players on the bench but we have to prioritize giving the minutes to our senior squads players such as Elneny, Giroud, Walcott, Ospina, Wilshere, Merts, Chambers, Iwobe, Le Coq when he is healthy etc etc etc. We might need those players on the first team if we have injuries so those guys have to get the first chance at the minutes. The younger players like Nelson and Maitland-Niles should get the leftover minutes in positions where we don’t have a senior squad player to cover. We don’t really have a good back up option at RWB and LWB which is why Arsene uses Nelson and Maitland-Niles at those positions. The realistic option is for them to play wingback or not play. IMO.

  23. There is no way Keown can really know what is going on in Ozil’s mind and the notion that he does not care is clearly speculation that no one can prove or disprove. However, its clear to anyone who watches that Mesut has not been the same difference making player for a long time now and there has to be a reason. Some will search for excuses such as blaming Arsene or blaming our midfield defense or blaming Ramsey for making forward runs etc etc. Looking for outside excuses to explain a players long of poor form usually gives the wrong answer because a player is responsible for his own form. Ozil has been given a free roaming role and no one really expects him to contribute on the defensive end so if he was still capable of being a consistent difference making player on the attacking end then he has the perfect situation. My own belief is that he has been playing at the highest level since he was a teenager and he is now 29 years old and there are a lot of high leverage miles on his legs. He has won everything there is to win and he has made more money then almost any of us can imagine. Now he is playing for a team whose goal seems to be 4th place and may be winning the FA cup. I think his physical skills are clearly beginning to fade and the ability to turn on the physical energy is not the same. I also suspect that like many players who are on the wrong side of their career arc its more difficult to find the consistent mental energy which is different then saying that he does not care.

  24. Morata equalizes and have to say, Chelsea have been the more dominate side but this Athletico and they only need one counter.

  25. The other thing that is growing annoying is that when Ozil does pick up a knock or gets injured its always he is quitting or something along those lines. Its really strange to me.

  26. Draxler comes on as a sub in the 89th minute. He can’t be happy about his time on the pitch since Neymar rocked up. He must be at least looking for a loan move in January. Surely he needs to get some reasonable playing time in the run up to the World Cup (if Holland get there).

  27. Wavey,

    Draxler is German so they will be at the World Cup. I think the thing that did Draxler in was Mbappe who has hit the ground running. I wouldn’t mind Draxler on a loan with the potential to make it permanent in the summer.

  28. The thing that did hurts Draxler is the fact that he is significantly over rated. He is one of those players who gets attention because there is something about him that is eye catching but he has never been very effective. Look at his career numbers.

  29. Top of the PL table looks stronger then it has in years which is bad news for our hopes of finishing 4th. I think we still have a reasonable chance but its going to be tough and we are going to have to hope for a slip up from both Spurs and Liverpool.

  30. The Drax is another example of a player who over performs early in his career. He scored 10 goals in 24 league games as an 18 year old for Schalke and became 1 of the top 3-4 heavily hyped U21 players in this decade and lived off his reputation since then. He has never come close to replicating the sort of production he had in that one season as an 18 year old. Arsenal is not the only club that has seen that phenomenon

  31. The following players are not travelling:

    Kos, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Xhaka, Lacazette, Sead, Bellerin and Monreal.

    The following players are injured:

    Iwobi, Cazorla, Coquelin, Chambers and Welbeck.

    The senior players expected to start are:

    Per, Jack, Giroud and Walcott.

    Wenger said of the youngsters:

    You do not get ten opportunities to play for Arsenal. Even if they only get 20 minutes, you have to convince people you have the qualities to do it, convince people you have the qualities to do it and the courage to play and show your qualities.

    Only one or two young players will start with a young bench.

    Sounds like AMN and Nelson will start as FB/WBs again, so they have to prove themselves whilst playing out of position away from home against Bate. I have the feeling they are going to have a tough night and I feel sorry for them.

    Anybody got clue what the starting line up will be?

  32. Can anyone explain why we still have Debuchy on the books? Given that he has contributed next to zero over the past couple of seasons by not releasing him and buying a replacement Wenger is effectively saying we will play at least until January without a second RB/RWB in the squad. Given that we made a profit in the last TW that’s clearly an absurd thing to do.

    Wenger persists in trying to create a squad of non-specialist utility players and it’s detrimental to the club. Think back to our title winning sides and and we didn’t have FB’s playing CD, or MF’s playing FB/WB, we used players in specific roles and when we needed cover we used competent back ups that played that role rather than using reserve players in unfamiliar positions.

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