Arsène’s Squad It All Wrong. But Why?
Arsène observed on Friday:
There is no room to move. Is 25 enough given the injuries? It is an artificial rule that I don’t like.
On the face of it, this seems a reasonable observation, his doubts emphasised when considering how the current campaign has unravelled through injuries to key players.
The official Premier League stateement at the time the rule change was implemented read:
From next season, clubs must include eight home-grown players out of a squad of 25. A home-grown player will be defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the Season during which he turns 21).
Effectively, the Premier League is asking the clubs to replicate the restrictions placed on international and european competition, despite there being more fixtures to endure. On the face of it, it is a restrictive practice, forcing managers into an untenable position when faced with even a mild injury crisis.
Looking at Arsenal, should the current squad remain unchanged, this will be the list submitted next season:
Manuel Almunia, Vito Mannone, Lukasz Fabianski; Sol Campbell, Mikaël Silvestre, William Gallas, Bakari Sagna, Emmanuel Eboué, Gaël Clichy, Thomas Vermaelen, Johan Djourou, Kerrea Gilbert, Philippe Senderos; Tomáš Rosický, Abou Diaby, Cesc Fàbregas, Samir Nasri, Alexandre Song, Denílson; Andrey Arshavin, Eduardo, Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Jay Simpson
The observant among you will have noticed something immediately amiss with that squad. In fact, there are several things wrong.
Firstly, key players are missing. We’ll come back to them in a minute. Secondly, the chances of that squad being unchanged are nil, especially with Campbell, Silvestre, Gallas and Senderos all out of contract in the summer. Some will leave through their own volition, others at Arsène’s behest. The final thing that is wrong? There are only 24 names so Wenger cannot even comply with the basic letter of the new rule.
There two nuances which Wenger chose to ignore that are rather more revealing. Again from the Premier League statement, the first becomes clear:
Clubs will be able to supplement their squads with unlimited additional players under the age of 21 on 1st January in the year in which the season commences.
In other words, your squad size can be as big as you like but 25 of the players must be over 21. Arsenal do not comply with that now or next season. They are not old enough. To emphasise that point, the following players, if they remain at the club, augment the twenty five:
Carlos Vela, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Mark Randall, Armand Traoré, Fran Mérida, Wojciech Szczesny, Nacer Barazite, Gavin Hoyte, Henri Lansbury, Rhys Murphy, Craig Eastmond, Aaron Ramsey, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Sanchez Watt
All are under twenty-one years of age in January 2010 and therefore do not need to be part of the initial twenty-five names. Far from being a restriction, the squad system is rather playing into Wenger’s hands. Of this list, age becomes an issue for 2011/12 when the first five will all be over 21 by 1st January 2011. Even this is not a particular issue just yet.
Wenger has to decide who will make the grade, perhaps being more ruthless than the benevolence shown thus far. Of the initial 24 players, question marks exist over those out of contract whilst the futures of Almunia, Fabianski and Gilbert are open to immediate speculation. Realistically, at the start of 2010/11 season, Wenger has space for five players, assuming two of the out of contract players leave, accompanied by two of the other three. Far from having no room to move, he has space to play with. More to the point, the critics of “Project Youth” are now in a position where they have to admit that the theory is actually the only way in which the top clubs can survive and maintain their placings.
The second aspect not mentioned by the manager is that the squad can be changed after the January window closes so for example, had Ramsey’s injury occurred in November, his name could be dropped from the squad list to accommodate another.
So why is Wenger choosing to cast doubt on the ruling? He has been burned by injuries this time, no doubt and would perhaps like more than 25 experienced players. Yet there is more ‘political’ motive that springs immediately to mind.
Post-Barcelona, the manager alluded to signing a new central defender in the summer. Add into that the comments of Peter Hill-Wood concerning the funding available and the speculation has spun way beyond his control, a fact acknowledged on Friday (again) when Wenger observed that all of the rumours of interest in players was incorrect. Quite simply, he is trying to regain control of the maelstrom around the club this summer. He knows the Fabregas stories will crescendo with the shrill squawkings of the Spanish media and this before he looks at the views of the multitude of Arsenal blogs.
Exponentially, expectations of signings increase with every defeat suffered, no matter how cruel the manner in which the loss may have occurred. An avalanche started and Wenger is seeking to divert it away from the current squad as the scattergun approach of critics looks dangerously like creating another atmosphere which saw Emmanuel Eboué abused by his own supporters. A repeat of events that the manager cannot allow to happen.
He also faces public questioning of his dealings in the market, not just from the blogs but in the national press. Whilst those opinions should not drive his views, they add into the atmosphere surrounding the club. The progress of this season cannot be lost in a wave of acrimony through the summer as ‘expected’ arrivals do not materialise.