By Tony Attwood
The press has been having its usual fun whipping up storms: Arsenal are not buying everything that moves shock horror and there is already discontent in the camp most notably around the issue of Jack Wilshere seeking assurances. “I will talk with the manager,” announces Jack. Well, not exactly.
But the essence of these stories is simple: the press want to print tales of worry and negativity when it comes to Arsenal, and most of the time they achieve this by manipulating such facts as there are while leaving key elements out of the equation.
One key element, as far as Arsenal has been concerned for the past 15 years or so, has been the level of injuries. While this declined in the second half of last season, coming as it did alongside what appeared to be a greater desire of referees to clamp down on the wild excesses of the “stop them playing at all cost” defenders who faced Arsenal, there is no telling what the refs might do this coming season.
And of course there are just the regular injuries that come along. Arteta, for example, went to Malaysia and has picked up an injury in training and now won’t play.
But I think there are changes afoot. In fact I think Arsenal have three changes in place which explain why he’s not that desperate to buy more players, and that is before we consider whether this coming season we will see a return to normal procedure of refs letting everything go when it is against Arsenal. But maybe, just maybe, that improvement in refereeing I saw in the spring was real.
Let’s take Jack Wilshere as an example. He played in a holding position of in front of the defence with England. An ability to play in a position from which he can break forward and create at Arsene Wenger suggests he can, is a bonus.
In fact Wenger has given high praise to Wilshere saying, “For me he can play in all the offensive positions, Wide, central, and we have many good creative players. They will all tell you they want to play centrally. Unfortunately, some have to go wide as well.”
Two bonuses, which means if we get a serious injury in either position, he can move into that role – defensive midfield, attacking midfield. What the press see as a problem is in fact a solution. Just as Ramsey’s ability to play wide or in the centre is a bonus. Just as Santi Cazorla’s ability to influence the game from a position near to Couquelin, or further forwards, or out on the wing, is a bonus. Players who can play in different positions.
“This season I plan to keep Chuba Akpom with us,” said Mr Wenger. “It’s down to performance and attitude and he has that way to make a big talent and, after, to be an efficient player week in week out. That’s the target.
“Scoring three goals is encouragement to do well and work even harder. He’s a young player and it can lift confidence. The confidence you sense in the dressing room from other players is important as well.”
Here’s another set of options: if Oxlade-Chamberlain is over all his injury problems he is available as a right wing player. So is Theo Walcott. But Theo could be used down the middle as per the Cup Final or on the wing. More flexibility.
Such an array of options is unusual, and is of course more complex than the standard “go out and buy a world class centre forward” claim, which assumes that the player is available, wants to come and the club wants to let him go and it is all an issue of one player. Remembering of course that for every top player there are a dozen Balotellis – and you never know it may be that the era of the flexible player is starting.
But, you may feel, why is this “shocking” as per the title?
Of course the move to flexible players isn’t shocking in the real world, but in the world of journalism, anything that takes one away from the focus on an individual player for an individual position is shocking. So keep Debuchy and having him available to play full back or central defence, is a bonus – two places covered. Not buying another player is shocking, even if we have the position covered.
Indeed a squad full of players who can play in several positions, combined with some up and coming youngsters, is a perfect answer to rampant injury crises that have knocked Arsenal back year after year after year.
And at the moment this is looking like a fairly solid squad. Emiliano Martinez was chosen to start in goal – which was interesting. Arsenal obviously needed three keepers, on tour as in one for each game and one as a backup for injury, but giving Martinez half a game suggested he might stay. I had got the impression he was slipping back as he hasn’t played for any Argentine side since 2011. On the other hand I thought he was superb against Borussia Dortmund and looked a totally different player from the one who played in the 5-7 win over Reading.
Maybe we will keep all the keepers!
Mr Wenger had one other point to make about injuries: “Top level today is so demanding physically that to be in and out is a nightmare for the players…. We have a big squad but not a massive one, and the opportunities will be there for everyone.”
We’ve also got Mathieu Flamini in Malaysia – whose contract is now up. On this he said, “I don’t like to give up that easily. In football everything can move very easily. I don’t like to look back at the past. We are starting a new season and I’m focused on that.”
Coming back to Arsenal and the injuries, there was one interesting point I found in an interview with Jack. He said that the first thing the physio got him to do was “to stand on one leg and close my eyes. I couldn’t do it.” Interesting for this is one of the early exercises in yoga, and almost everyone who has not practiced it finds it hard – or at least hard on one leg if not the other. And harder when you are being told where to put your hands! If you care about how you feel about yourself, try it twice a day everyday until you can stay on one foot, hands by your sides, eyes closed, for as long as you like. Can do wonders for your balance, your body and your inner being.
I wonder if this idea was something that Shad Forsyth, who was fitness coach for the 2014 World Cup Germany team, added. Apparently there have been a number of changes to recovery and training plans and to food.
Jack said in one interview, “Now training is more positional-based. Midfielders do one drill, defenders and attackers another. Training is more intelligent.” That’s quite a challenging statement aimed at the old regime.
The system also has a load of tests that provide early warning signs for any issues that could be about to happen.
So maybe it is a combination: new training systems, different approaches to medical issues, and not so much a case of buying in lots of new players but of having players who if the need arises, can swop positions. An attacking midfielder who can play defensive midfield. A full back who can play in the centre. A winger who can play centre forward.
I doubt the media will be able to deal with all this. Watch out for “Why Arsenal need another centre forward,” stories starting tomorrow.
17 July 2014: Arsenal announced the signing of Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle for around £12m. His first season was very disrupted by two separate long term
injuries and he missed a chance to play in the Cup Final.
Latest pre-season review (another one later today)