READY WILLING AND ABLE – BUT MATCH FIT?
Arsenal have had [according to some – Tony] a stuttering and lacklustre start to this season. So it is time to reiterate that we have a large squad that is brimming with top quality. Our first team (probable) of Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsay, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud/Walcott (difficult to discern automatic first choice at this juncture) would match any team head to head and I believe will challenge for EPL Champions this season.
Yet virtually every position has a challenger for the place. So the second team of Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Campbell, Walcott/ Giroud (to this list should be added our long term injury Welbeck as a spare forward and Flamini as a spare midfielder) would also be a top EPL team.
But they have a problem.
They have nowhere to go and no-one to play. There is no longer any reserve team football. So the only options for these players are sitting on a bench with the prospect of only 20 minutes first team football if they are lucky. Or even worse being one of the 3 over-age players permitted in the Under 21 team which is almost certainly not to the necessary intensity.
We must recognise this is not the full picture. Half a dozen players will have to be held back for the first team bench although this may only involve 4-6 of the second team because sometimes quality youngsters such as Bielik, Fortune, Iwobe, Adelaide, Sheaf and possibly Pleguezuelo, Bennecer, Willock would fully justify first team bench experience and even a brief moment of opportunity to show their potential.
There is no doubt that most of the reserves have a serious need to be playing football, particularly the older ones must get competitive football to avoid being ‘ring rusty’ when called for a full team start. Perhaps only Wilshere and Oxlade Chamberlain are exceptions to this concern. Clearly the loan system is not appropriate and as it becomes more intensely registered is becoming much less capable of meeting reserve players needs as opposed to those of the maturing young stars for which Arsenal now predominately use it.
So what could be the solution? I believe that major clubs should be able to purchase clubs as a subordinate base through which players should be completely interchangeable. So if Arsenal were to purchase Barnet or Borehamwood then this could establish an Arsenal B team playing in real competitive leagues.
This would even allow the B team to rise all the way through to even Championship league level although clearly they could not be allowed into the same league as the first team. It may be fun for amateur clubs to have two of their own teams compete but the commercial reality of top professional football would have to preclude this. This would be so even if you reached the startling position of the B team gaining a promotion slot whilst the first team suffer the ignominy of relegation from the league immediately above!
There are putative signs of this approach from some very wealthy owners. There are now several examples of owners with several clubs in different countries or even continents if they want to escape loan and registration complications. Man City are one example of this and even Watford potentially another.
However this would not adequately resolve the simple initial problem. What is needed for reserves is competitive English football. International and even intercontinental options will not resolve this need.
So do others have better solutions for this real need?
In the past Arsenal did have a club that they supported in this way – Margate – and the story of this club’s link with Arsenal can be seen here.
The ban on this sort of arrangement led Untold to suggest that Arsenal could take over a financially challenged club in the lower reaches of the Scottish League. And the FA following on from this proposed in 2014 that Premier League clubs should be able to enter a team in either the Conference or League Two. The League vetoed this but earlier this year Patrick Vieira suggested that the idea should be examined again.
These sorts of arrangements are common in other parts of Europe, but football in England seems set against it.
Arsenal do have a link with Colorado Rapids in the USA, of which Stan Kroenke is the owner. Chelsea have links with Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands, and last year the Dutch Football Federation opened an investigation into this following a claim from a former Vitesse shareholder Merab Jordania, that Chelsea did not want the side to qualify for the Champions League – because that would mean Chelsea would have to break its links with the club.
Vitesse’s owner, Alexander Chigrinsky, is an associate of Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich. Chelsea have or have recently had Nemanja Matic, Slobodan Rajkovic, Matej Delac, Tomas Kalas (twice), Ulises Davila, Patrick van Aanholt (three times), Gael Kakuta, Cristian Cuevas, Lucas Piazon, Christian Atsu, Sam Hutchinson, Wallace, Bertrand Traore,Josh McEachran, Lewis Baker, Izzy Brown, and Nathan on loan there.
Last July, Marc Overmars, sporting director at Ajax said his club had been denied the opportunity to speak to Vitesse midfielder Marco van Ginkel about a possible move because of Chelsea’s “co-operation agreement” with Vitesse.
So if changes are to be made to the rules there will have to be a lot of unpicking of issues first.
From today’s anniversary file
8 September 1984: Arsenal topped the league for first time in 12 years after beating Liverpool 3-1 at Highbury in front of 50,006. Arsenal had won three, drawn one and lost one – but sadly slipped in the next match – a 2-1 defeat to Ipswich.
8 September 2001: Chelsea 1 Arsenal 1. League match 4 of the third Double season. Henry scored, and after four games Arsenal had two wins one defeat and one draw. But perhaps more interestingly, Arsenal had scored 10 and conceded 3.
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal