Keeping the Stiffs supple

Chris Hannington


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?

Background notes

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


10 Replies to “Keeping the Stiffs supple”

  1. I can see the value in having competition for all the players fit to play. I disagree with the concept that a team has to have a “First XI”. I recognize that many fans talk about a first XI. I think the XI the manager places on the field for any particular game, is the best XI to get the result. Some teams score a lot of goals through set pieces, some score very few. Some teams are fast, some are slow. Some teams play long ball. Some teams hope to not lose by kicking the opposition to shreds. There is no reason to think it should be the same XI that face all of those kinds of opposition teams.

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  3. I agree with Gord. It’s too linear to think of having a first XI these days. Sure, you might want to keep a regular set of CB’s and GK.

    But beyond that, we have more advanced tactics.

    Bellerin and Debuchy bring different strengths to the table, Same with Nacho and Gibbs to a different extent.

    And that’s before you even get the myriad of midfield combinations on offer.

    The season isn’t limited to just the 38 PL games. There’s the cup competitions, which can offer another half season worth of games.

    I think there’s enough games to give everyone enough of chance to show their worth.

  4. It’s not a pre-requisite that the players have to be separated into squads that concept misses the point. Truth is that players need to play competitively. As they do not get it for the premier league team they need to have an alternative. It’s the ones on the fringe that suffer. For instance how might Bendtner developed with regular football.

  5. Whats stopping a ‘family’ owning clubs across Europe? Vitesse & Chelsea night be owned by a ‘family’. Laundry can also be shared within the family.

  6. Keeping everyone happy and playing is truly a juggling act . Just as no two players are alike in the way they play, this difference can be exploited to suit the opponents . For example certain players are very good going forward on the offensive , while others are better in a more defensive situation , so the players can be chosen to suit the play.
    Hopefully AW can use all the players in the squad so that they each get sufficient game time. The injuries will again curtail playing time , but hopefully this does not become a big factor this season .
    It will be interesting to see which team AW puts out this weekend .

  7. I do think this is one of the reasons that teams do so bad when players are injured for a longer spell. It takes the replacement a long time to get in the riddim of the others. So competitive football needs to be organised for those players of a club who are not chosen for the matches, by having a league of their own, like the U21s, whose league should also mirror the PL. This way we will see an improvement in football.

  8. @ para -September 9, 2015 at 4:22 am – Like most I too am happy with the players we have stepping in for those injured or off form . Especially the fullbacks and the midfield.
    No panic . Just slotting in quite seamlessly .
    Unlike in earlier times when the crowds apprehension was palpable at the sight of Squillaci ,Djourou , and later on Arshavin , getting ready to come on .

  9. The gap between under 21 and first team is too large this is where the players development stalls.

  10. A coupe of points from the contributions made so far.

    Whilst it is right to say that first and reserve squads are not true of today’s more flexible game, it is not true to say that the core of the teams selected for EPL games are pretty stable. It is not just Arsene who is reluctant to rotate but for example Chelsea last season used a very small number of first team players. The problem of those who are rarely used is exacerbated when they are older experienced players who need EPL games to get their rhythm and tempo fully up to scratch.

    A major part of my initial argument was that the gap between EPL and under 21s is far too big so I strongly agree with porter and would only add that overage players are strictly limited.

    And I feel strongly that the only solution must be competitive football and not just semi friendly arrangements.

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