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October 2016
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Arsenal’s shocking player strategy for 2015/16 revealed

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.

Plus we can see in Singapore more options emerging such as Chuba Akpom, who looks to have pushed his claim to staying in the first team squad this season way above Campbell and Sanogo.

“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.

Today’s anniversary

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)

17 comments to Arsenal’s shocking player strategy for 2015/16 revealed

  • Dex

    Given the amount of injuries we get, it would be prudent to have cover for every position.

    So, that means we need another two players then. Defensive midfield (Wenger said Wilshere can play offensive NOT defensive midfield. Nice piece propaganda there Tony!)

    Of course the media love to put out negative Arsenal stories, Because it engenders hits clicks and phone calls to piss poor radio phone ins.
    And Arsenal IPAs one of the biggest social media followings.

  • Dex

    That article you refer to (in the Indy) is ‘written’ by a spud supporting hack, BTW.

  • nicky

    If only we long-term supporters of Arsenal FC could spend a day at Colney, watch the training and listen to the talk, we would be amazed at the changes in tactics, training and coaching methods.
    Top professionals today can be likened to highly tuned racehorses. Trained for specific tasks on grass. Finely disciplined. Food intake carefully monitored.
    There is now little resemblance to the players of a few decades ago. 😉

  • para

    Yes, Arsenal started to become a team with multi-faceted players, which makes sense with the restrictions on numbers and all this home grown palaver.
    I hope the players are mostly happy with the fact that they can be called to play a different position, and will think (team) without forgetting their individual career. This situation can potentially cause problems, but i think they must all be starting to smell the PL trophy now and want to get there as part of the team.

    Still feel that this Arsenal team has not even played to their fullest potential yet, and i hope for this to happen this season. I want the haters to just have to stand there with mouths open and blank looks in their eyes, just like that picture taken of the Spuds fans when King Henri scored and is standing before them.

  • colario

    Interesting. Thank you.

  • colario

    I note there is no media hype about which Gk is to leave and if the club know they are not saying.

    The real mystery in fact the only mystery (of this window) is not who we are going to buy but which one of the resident Gks will leave? Are we going to have four Gks or will one go on loan?

    Could it be that there is no news on this one because even Arsene doesn’t know the answer yet?

    For once, I would love to know Arsene’s thinking on this one at this moment in time. If only I could give him a call.

  • Mad Eye

    Interesting article. On the subject of flexible players I will be interested as to where chambers will play, assuming he gets game time tomorrow. I really don’t know whether he is seen now as a right back, centre back or perhaps an understudy for Coq

  • Brickfields Gunners

    What was Arteta doing in Malaysia ? Was he looking for some chewing gum of something else ? Singapore is known as a ‘fine ‘ city , and there are quite a few no -nos that have to be observed there .
    Here are punishable offenses in Singapore:

    – Sale of cigarettes to minors (under age 18)
    – Sale or possession of chewing gum
    – Vandalism
    – Spitting
    – Littering
    – Urinating in elevators
    – Feeding the pigeons
    – Jaywalking
    – Possession of firecrackers (punishment: caning)
    – Eating or drinking in the subway
    – Not flushing the toilet
    – Possession or trafficking of >20 grams of drugs (punishment: death).
    As the Singaporeans say . ” Don’t play play !”

  • esxste

    Mad Eye,

    When Chambers signed for us, Wenger said he saw Chambers playing in midfield, so there may be something in that comment about understudy for Coq.

    We’ll see.

  • Nonny

    Liverpool are rumored to have met the £32.5m buy out clause for Christian Benteke

    Liverpool, if they sign Benteke will be able to play 6 different No. 9s in Benteke, Origi, Balotteli, Ings, Lambert and Sturridge. Some Arsenal fans are clamoring for something like this. Well done!

    What rubbish!!!

  • Mick

    I think they still have Borini as well which makes it seven. Maybe the managerial genius that is Rodgers is going to field a team made up entirely of strikers.

  • Andy Mack

    Some of the big teams have actually had 2 ‘backup’ players for every position and all ‘internationals’ at some level. However we’ve also seen an increase of those ‘backup’ players moaning about not playing (no mention that they too the job knowing the playing problem but happy to take the increased salary!). AWs way of missing this problem and the squad bickering/issues that it leads to are to have players that can cover a 2nd (and sometimes 3rd) position.
    A fine example would be Debuchy. I’m pretty certain he’ll get at least 50% of the available RB game time (injuries permitting). With a second RB like HB, why not have a player like Debuchy as a CB if necessary. Better a match fit player who’s playing a slightly different position, than a rusty 4th CB who’s only competitive games have been reserves or TinPotCup (and is blocking a youth ‘talent at the same time).
    There are similar options at DM in the few games a DM is really necessary, like either Debuchy, Monreal or Kozzer (or Hayden).
    I am hoping for one more addition (no names/positions mentioned)but if we’re only half as unlucky as we have been for the last few seasons then we should have a real good season ahead.

  • Andy Mack

    *they took the job*

  • Gord

    It’s official, Sanogo is off to Ajax on loan for the season.

    Best of luck at Ajax!

  • Mick

    Is Thierry Henry going the same way as most of the other pundits with his criticism of the team. He is now saying we need another four signings if we want to close the gap on Chelsea, which is tantamount to saying our squad is not good enough. I hate to say it but he is in danger of losing his legend status with me if he continues to undermine the club as he is currently doing. He should be encouraging the squad rather than telling them they are not up to scratch, which is what he appears to be doing.

  • Menace

    Liverpool – with all those strikers Rogers is now looking for flying pickets!

    Wenger’s multi faceted approach means the 4 GKs can also play CF! Smoking Chez up front instead of Giroud! It’ll scare the sh…… out of some defenders.

    TH14 – let the boy earn his pocket money! He’s playing the mejia game.

  • Gideone

    What qualifies one to be a sports (football) analyst these days? Most footballers touted by the press as being “world class” and whose services Wenger “MUST” secure do not even measure up to the level of the guys they are supposed to replace in our team. An example is our up and coming Coq and the DM position. Comparing him to Vidal, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, etc on the Squawka Comparison Matrix (here shows that he performed better in the 2014/15 campaign. Like a former boss of mine used to say, “Analysts don’t run banks”. They don’t (and can’t) run clubs either.