Arsenal and that “Little squad” problem

Arsenal, we are repeatedly told has a little squad. That’s why they can’t win things. To win things you need a Big Squad. With a Big Squad you win things.

Its worth putting both ways round because it is said so often. You know the game – one journalist says it so another says it, and then another, and before you know it, it must be true.

But, well, maybe not.

Daniel Agger of Liverpool made the point that losing to the Tiny Fantasists (that is the team that reckons it has a season ticket waiting list of 20,000 and whose main achievement of the Levy Years is to get planning permission for a training ground), in the League Cup was not good because, “We have a big squad and the more games we can have the better it is for us. Not going any further than the fourth round this season is very annoying.”

Especially when you see the bunch of children that hammered you 6-3 at home a while back, sail through.

That is the problem with squads – you need to keep people happy. Or not as is the case with Pennant, at Liverpool. The Insolvents manager won’t play him – not in the league, not in the cup. Nowhere. He wants to sell him, but no one wants to pay much.

That’s part of the problem with being insolvent – you can’t buy until you sell, but all you have to sell is your players who are so fringe that they don’t even get a single game in the league cup.

Which brings me to my point. Arsenal keep players happy by having a tight first team squad in which everyone is going to get a game, with an extra group of young players who will be more than happy for a few games in the league cup.

Of course there is a risk that this way you run out of players for big matches. That’s true, but the Lord Wenger’s way around this is to find players who can play in two positions. Diaby with his midfield centre forward role is but the latest example. Kolo came as a full back, went to centre, and can move back. Gallas can deputize at left back if need be while Traore has fun and games on the south coast. Nasri can play across the midfield, Song can play centre half or midfield.

Some don’t like this – but… the alternative is to have a player of the highest quality who then gets very few games because he is a deputy to a top player. When his chance comes (eg in the league cup) he can’t do it, because he is rusty, and feels he is being made to step down.

When our kids get to the league cup it is the big moment for them – the great step up, so they give it everything, as we have seen. And, as we have also seen, in many cases they mature quickly for the first team. No one can deny that Ramsey can play in the first team already, just as Cesc could at that age. And if he then has to step back he is hardly going to feel it is not worth staying (unless he changes his name to Bentley)

The first team squad, slightly smaller than most, the vibrant reserve side that can play in the league cup, plus the ability to move players to other positions, is a superb system, and a great invention of Lord Wenger’s. There have been elements of it on show in other clubs, but not the whole pattern as we see here.

I know for sure that in 30 seconds time a journalist will say that Arsenal can’t win because they have a little squad – but then maybe I’ll drop him/her a note pointing at the grand squads of the Insolvents and CSKA both of whom lost in the cup, or Manchester Bankrupts who only just managed to scrape through.

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