Arsenal Won’t Recover Until There’s Competition for Places

“A haystack of lies and obfuscation”. No, Boris Johnson wasn’t talking about the Heil front page but the Russian reaction as we hurtle toward another Cold War.

Football doesn’t worry about such things beyond fixing the draws on European competitions so clubs from warring nations don’t meet each other. Or, in a typically FIFA response, banning a football federation.

Anyway, that’s for lesser minds than mine to sort out. Suffice to say, there’s a strong feeling of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” about Infantino at FIFA and Ceferin is fast-tracking himself down the same road.

Petr Cech made an appearance on television yesterday and I was minded of the Monty Python lion-tamer sketch; Petr is a footballer who wants to be an accountant. But he’s also a bloody nice bloke; we know that from the back pages and the time he took to speak with Ryan Mason and his family.

So, when a nice bloke speaks, you listen. And it was sort of uncomfortable listening if you were Arsène, in a nice way:

“At Chelsea, we never decided which competition you play, it was a game by game process.

“If you kept playing well then you were fit and you didn’t need rest then the manager had his choice to pick the goalkeeper for the competitions.

“Sometimes I would sit a game out or be on the bench but it would not be decided, ‘You play this competition, you play this competition’.

“I enjoyed that because I love this competition, for example, to be involved and play FA Cup games. Any other competition makes it a bit more spicy and special.”

Competition for places isn’t something which the Arsenal are familiar with in recent years. Probably for the past decade, if we’re honest.

“Pick me, Pick me” Screams the Desperate Kid

There’s a major obstacle to competition for places at Arsenal, beyond the calibre of players we currently have. A central plank of Arsène’s philosophy is the harmonious dressing room. Which he has on the surface but to paraphrase Burn Notice, footballers are a bunch of bitchy little girls talking out of school.

And inherent in competition for places is the uncomfortable mix of wanting the team to do well but your rival to underwhelm. Jens Lehmann’s view of Manuel Almunia while the Spaniard was his rival is unprintable and Almunia is a bloody nice bloke.

Contrast that with the ‘nice guys’ Giroud and Walcott who were too passive to make a fuss as they warmed the bench. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left for the same reason and while people want the former pair to do well, the latter is public enemy #2194. Some are happy for the former to do well but want the latter to fall flat on his Arsenal. I’m ambivalent toward all three.

But the German’s spikiness was his competitive streak,  his will to win. The hope is that new arrivals are able to bring the same to the squad rather than becoming infected with the niceness which currently pervades the club.

That would be an issue if we had the depth to create competition for places; the years of under-investment is evident.

We have two goalkeepers but as Cech says, it’s not how Wenger set out his stall. Is that a sop to Ospina? He needs regular(ish) first-team football to meet his international aspirations while none of our younger goalkeepers is ready if Cech gets injured. They simply don’t have the experience to take on the Number One shirt, but if they don’t play, they can’t get experience.

I Reel Off the Times That I was Ignored

Therein is the rub. Football more than ever before is based on squad rotation; it’s a squad game, Brian. No player registers the 60 – 70 club appearances per season which were the norm thirty years ago. Players are finely-honed athletes and with more awareness of the demands on their bodies, an ever-present in the side is a rarity.

But that doesn’t negate the need for competition for places. Who is Hector Bellerin’s rival? Chambers? Maitland-Niles? Hec isn’t losing any sleep over his place in the starting line-up nor are the centre-backs.

It’s easier to look at positions where competition exists. Left-back to some extent; attacking midfield, dependent upon injuries, but as with the rest of the midfield, form rarely comes into the equation.

The intriguing question is in attack. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s signing put the cat among the peach trim and gold spangles. Alexandre Lacazette’s ‘timely’ injury stopped an issue forming but now that he is fit, the answer of fitting two £50m strikers into one team must present itself.

If ever there was a position feeding off confidence, striker is it. Are we set for a double-pronged attack? Fitting the duo into the team means shifting formation slightly in that sense to a 4-4-2. No Wilshere and Ramsey combo in that one; someone somewhere is going to have their nose pushed out of joint in the solution.

My guess is that this season’s solution is all about the Europa League. Wenger then has the summer to resolve the problem out or can leave it to his successor.

If only we could find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which allows us to replicate the issue all over the pitch. Then we might find ourselves with a title-challenging squad.

’til Tomorrow.

32 thoughts on “Arsenal Won’t Recover Until There’s Competition for Places

  1. Good morning to you all, a bright sunny but cold day here in Norfolk.

    I would guess that Wenger is hoping that the midfield situation will resolved when Jack leaves for richer pastures elsewhere. Then he can wedge in his favourites, Ramsey and Iwobi.

    Personally I would like to see Aubameyang and Lacazette given the chance to work up a partnership in attack.

    On a completely different subject, I always believed that FA Cup semi finals were played at neutral grounds. So how come Spurs are being allowed to play the tie with Man U at their home ground?

  2. It’s been like that for a long time now, and players with some exceptions aren’t to fussed about it , afterall it’s the money that counts. Merts confirms he rather sit on the bench than play, if you want context read his interview and we make him youth development boss.

  3. Buckagh,

    Hmm, not sure what good Merts is going to be. As a Captain he wasn’t much of a leader on the pitch and he certainly wasn’t much good at organising the defence either.

    We have two first team goalkeeping coaches but how much coaching should experienced players such as Cech and Ospina need?

  4. You raise a couple of really interesting issues today, YW. The Wenger Question looms over all (even though most of the regular posters on here are in agreement about the Answer) but it is nice to get down to the nuts and bolts of football when circumstances allow us. I definitely agree that there is a lack of competition for places in certain positions and that this is particularly apparent at RB. Here, I have some sympathy for managers, balancing the international aspirations of the quality alternatives now required against form and the benefits of a settled line-up. This should not stop us having at least two specialists available for each position (this becomes more complex if, as at the moment, significantly different formations are going to be employed). Players do seem more willing to sit on the bench and wait for their chance at a successful club and, of course, if they are paid through the nose to do so.
    I am definitely one of those who would like to see Laca and Auba tried in tandem. Would this necessitate 4-4-2, however? Both are capable wide players (whether they have Walcott-like objections to this, I know not). Not that I would mind the occasional use of 4-4-2; it really does baffle some teams these days!

  5. Great post Yogi

    Petr Cech’s statement adds more evidence to a debate we have had for many years which I think is now mostly settled. Most big team managers do not regularly rotate players just for the sake of rotating. They generally don’t use their squad players in high leverage games unless forced by injury. Most managers don’t give players prophylactic rest players when they don’t need rest. Arsene has been the only big team manager who gives his players extended vacations after summer international competitions and he was one of the first to devalue the importance of the league cup and early round FA cup games in order to rest his players and use those competitions as a chance to “blood youth”. A lot of us used to believe that Arsene was responsible for our injury issues because he overused his players. The reality is the opposite and I think our injury issues have always been caused by having a squad full of injury prone players.

    This season has also disproved another idea which had become conventional wisdom because many of us thought our results would improve if Arsene went to a system involving “hyper-rotation” to make sure everyone got more rest and to keep the squad players happy. However, this season the B team played all of the Europa league games and League cup and FA cup games which meant we had one of the most well rested squads in world football history but this has been one our worst year in terms of results since the George Graham era.

  6. PEA and Lacazette are the only 2 players on our entire squad who have a realistic chance to score in double figures in league games so unless we add a couple of scorers this summer we have to find a way to get them both into the lineup at the same time. The problem is both have been playing CF for several years and one of them will have to mentally accept the idea of moving back to a wide forward spot. We could try some variation of the 442 but we don’t really have any actual wingers who can move up and down the pitch at pace and run at players with the ball at their feet. Mkhitaryan is the closest thing we have to an effective winger. Ozil certainly can’t play as a winger. Our squad is not really built for the 442. With that formation there is only room for 2 central midfielders and 1 has to be the DM which only leaves Ozil Wilshere and Ramsey all competing for 1 spot. Ozil would be the default option for that one central midfield spot but in a 442 he would have to play deeper then he likes and he would be forced to help the DM with defending.

  7. Surely Boris was referring to Marxism For Today, ie the Guardian. Please leave your hard left political views where they belong which is not on your excellent blog which should remain about football and football only.

  8. Orson Kaert,

    They are goal keeping coaches in name only to me. Neither of them has any real experience (they certainly haven’t played at a particularly high level) and the one coach on our staff who does is classed as a ‘first team’ coach.

  9. Rotation for the sake of it isn’t always necessary but rotating when a player is out of form makes perfect sense and that I think is what Cech was getting at and also what many on here have said.

  10. Steve,

    “A haystack of lies and obfuscation”. No, Boris Johnson wasn’t talking about the Heil front page but the Russian reaction as we hurtle toward another Cold War.

    Eh? So quoting someone is expressing “hard left political views”??

    Okay, yeah, down with those nasty lefties and their free speech on their own blogs 😂😂😂

  11. I’ve said it before but I like 442. In fact isn’t it (or a slightly more flexible 4411) how Arsene won titles up until 2004? Being a more rigid formation (the traditional two banks of four, defenders who’s first priority is to actually defend) it actually alleviates one of AW’s main failings – a lack of structure. It’s also very easy for players to understand and perform their roles.

    Orson Kaert,

    Funny, my recollection was that Mert did start out as a vocal Captain type but I seem to recall that Wenger made him stop it so he didn’t upset his babies!

  12. andy1886,

    Yup, that is exactly what happened with Mert. Remember when Arteta was here as Captain and Mert spoke out of turn as vice captain about how shiy we were playing and Arsene and Arteta attacked him publicly. He also spokr out a couple times and Arsene wasn’t having it. If memory also serves didn’t he have a go at quite a few over not thanking supporters

  13. C,

    Yup, that’s what I remember too. Actually Mert as a coach might also flourish when Wenger gets the boot. Good luck to him.

  14. andy1886,

    I suspect that whoever eventually replaces Wenger will want to bring in their own coaching staff. So it could well lead to a clear out of Wenger’s placemen.

  15. Of all the current places that could influence Arsenal moving forward might be at the pivots. Xhaka seems locked into the DM role for the foreseeable future unless a new man comes in ans thinks otherwise but the other pivot is anyone’s guess with Santi going through hell, Jack out of contract and clearly doesn’t seem close to signing, Ramsey out of contract next summer and already rejected a new deal then you look at Maitland-Niles and Elneny who are better suited for the DM role at Arsenal.

    The Max Meyer situation is interesting because he would be a really good get but I wouldn’t mind seeing Fabinho of Monaco or poasobly Kovacic of Madrid buy there are quite a few but the current situation in midfield is certainly one to watch.

  16. Good day everyone, worry ye not Yogi no doubt tomorrow’s post will be twice as good as normal. 😁

    According to the Star Man U are preparing a bid for Ramsey in the summer. They have also been sniffing around Bellerin although the Mirror reports that Juventus are favourites to sign him.

    Meanwhile the Sun are saying that we are ready to bid £25 million for Leverkusan ‘keeper Bernd Leno as Cech’s replacement.

    UEFA will be taking no action against Welbeck for his penalty winning dive against AC Milan. In a separate report English National Ballet have offered Danny the chance to audition for the dying swan role in their new all male production of Swan Lake.

  17. Orson Kaert,

    Isn’t it funny how we always talk about the quality of our players not being good enough yet Szczesny is off to Juve and they also want Bellerin….two players that with proper coaching would be brilliant for Arsenal yet one was sold and the other is being rumored but I hope he stays.

  18. C,

    With a new coach coming in some of the players with itchy feet may think again. If Hector is off in the summer it will put further pressure on the transfer budget with some important positions to fill already. Hopefully a deal can be done to keep him, so that we can focus on having a complete team for next season. Unfortunately it sounds as if his move last summer was been postponed with the target club just changing in the coming summer. It appears as if it’s another situation where the player is going to force the issue and the club will accept it. All we can hope for is that we can get enough money in to buy a decent replacement, although if that were the case why wouldn’t clubs be targeting that guy instead?

  19. Wavey,

    Exactly, it makes absolutely no sense at all to sell Bellerin because finding a quality replacement will be equally as expensive and if Bellerin was so shit as somr think then why has the likes of Barca, Juve and Citeh wanted him. We have enough needs and but replacing a player who has played match in and match out and simply just needs to be coached up a bit more but he is a brilliant talent. I think people look at Bellerin and forget that he is still really young and defenders need to be coached up but its more difficult to do when your manager doesn’t really care about defending.

  20. C,

    The Wilshere situation is even more ridiculous. Whilst he was out injured I didn’t think we missed him, but since then we have lost Santi (probably for good) and don’t really have that much quality in the box to box role. To have stuck by him through all of his injuries and then potentially allow him to go on a free makes no sense at all. Playing hardball over expecting him to take a cut seems insane and isn’t in line with the club’s actions over other players in similar positions. We kept giving Diaby new deals even though he never really played at all. Maybe the new regime is trying to flex its muscles, but using Wilshere to prove themselves makes no sense. If he goes on a free it will be exceptionally bad business. Surely the simplest thing to do is maintain his current salary level with any additional pay rise/bonuses based on performance. I’m not sure how close we are to matching the home grown requirements either, but letting another home grown player go cannot make sense.

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