How a bad experience on loan can transform a player into one of the top players in Europe

by Tony Attwood

It’s hard to remember, after all the hullabaloo of the league cup, but we are second in the league.  That is both the Premier League by results and the Premier League by injuries (well, ok, equal 1st/2nd with Liverpool in terms of injuries).

But this is Arsenal we are talking about so it is PANIC TIME.  Oh Corporal Jones where are you when we need you?

The Telegraph, doing its usual rabid anti-Arsenal stuff, actually considered that we might get two more injuries any time now (they hypothesised Santi Caz and Ozil) and then said, “And that would be one heck of an injury crisis, even by Arsenal’s ludicrously high standards.”

“Ludicrously high standards”???   So we have more injuries that all the rest of the league put together do we?

We should have spent more and more on players so that we are covered for this sort of thing, should we?

But of course top players who think they are going to be 3rd choice in a squad won’t come.  Yes of course they’ll get a place if there are injuries to that position, but otherwise not.

Here’s the injury table with the notes on net expenditure in transfers

# TEAM TOTAL INJURIES 5yr spend Last year spend
1 Arsenal 8 £99m £8m
2 Liverpool 8 £163m £10m
3 Crystal Palace 7 £51m £21m
4 Bring back flogging 7 £322m £124m
5 Newcastle United 7 £68m £46m
6 Everton 6 £20m £13m
7 Fat Sam’s New Land 6 £59m £22m
8 Tiny Totts 6 -£36m £5m
9 Manchester United 5 £300m £33m
10 Bournemouth 4 £27m £21m
11 PGMO 4 £224m £32m
12 Southampton 4 £32m -£1m
13 Stoke City 4 £46m £3m
14 Bye bye Tim 3 £33m £9m
15 Leicester City 2 £46m £20m
16 Norwich City 2 £43m £10m
17 Watford 2 £7m £23m
18 West Bromwich Albion 2 £51m £27m
19 State Aid Utd 2 £93m £27m
20 Swansea City 1 £13m £9m

We are top, but for the first time.  For much of the season so far we’ve been well away from the top, and we will be again.

Interestingly just like the league position the link between transfer spend and injuries is tenuous – emphasising the fact that the amount of money spend on transfers doesn’t affect anything much.

And yes although we are in the top position, let us not forget that for some of the season we’ve been near the bottom – and it is not as if we are far out on our own, miles ahead of everyone else.

This table takes the league position and compares with the position on the injury table.

POS CLUB P W D L GF GA GD Pts Injury Pos
1 No democracy thank you 10 7 1 2 24 8 16 22 4
2 Arsenal 10 7 1 2 18 8 10 22 1
3 State Aid Utd 10 6 2 2 22 13 9 20 19
4 Manchester Untidy 10 6 2 2 15 8 7 20 9
5 Leicester City 10 5 4 1 20 17 3 19 15
6 Very Tiny Totts 10 4 5 1 16 8 8 17 8
7 Crystal Palace 10 5 0 5 12 11 1 15 3
8 Southampton 10 3 5 2 16 13 3 14 12
9 Liverpool 10 3 5 2 9 11 -2 14 2
10 West Bromwich Albion 10 4 2 4 8 11 -3 14 18
11 Everton 10 3 4 3 13 13 0 13 6
12 Swansea City 10 3 4 3 12 12 0 13 20
13 Watford 10 3 4 3 8 10 -2 13 17
14 Stoke City 10 3 3 4 9 12 -3 12 13
15 PGMO 10 3 2 5 15 19 -4 11 11
16 Norwich City 10 2 3 5 14 21 -7 9 16
17 Bournemouth 10 2 2 6 12 22 -10 8 10
18 Sam’s back 10 1 3 6 11 19 -8 6 7
19 Newcastle United 10 1 3 6 12 22 -10 6 5
20 Poor Tim out of a job. 10 1 1 8 9 17 -8 4 14

Just as with transfers once again there is no link.  So transfer spending, injuries and the position in the league table – there really is no relationship to be seen – and that is before we start delving into cause and effect.

In fact injuries, and how the team copes, is about two completely different subjects, on which we have touched of late: youth players coming through who are willing to bide their time (Coquelin and Bellerin last season), and through flexibility of positional play.

In you have a player who can play in several positions then you might well be able to cover even a run of injuries adequately simply by moving one or two flexible players.

And we’ve seen that these last two seasons.  Ozil pops up on the wing, Alexis can venture into the number 9 role, Santi Cazorla can play deep or more further forwards on the wing.

And it is not as if all this moving around is bad for the team.  Players do need an extra chance to play, and the youth need their chance to break through.

What we have got are the players on the bench, and that is before we face the other options of pulling back a loan player (in the style of Coquelin), promoting from the under 21s, and changing the team around a bit.  Or a combination of all these.

As Walter pointed out the other day we can play a full-back on the wing in midfield.

Hector Bellerin played on the wing in his youth and is an option there, which would mean Mathieu Debuchy slotting in at right-back.

Kieran Gibbs came on in the last match at the Ems to play on the left wing near the end.   Put Nacho Monreal behind him and then move Alexis Sanchez to the right.  I’m not saying Mr W will do it but it is possible.

Then it is possible to put Santi in the wide position as we often saw him in Ozil’s first season, allowing Mesut to play in the centre.  That would mean Flamini playing central next to Coquelin.  Two defensive midfielders?  Why not?

Or play Flamini in defensive midfield, play Santi Caz as the number 10 and let Ozil play on the right and drift in.

Now much of this will depend on who we are playing.  You don’t have to have a system that works totally for every team you play against.   Consider who you’ve got, note that they won’t know until one hour before the game how you are lining up, and even then keep them guessing because they just don’t know where you are going to play.

That approach is not as good as a winning team in settled positions, but it is an interesting fall back position.   “Right lads, Ozil will be in the centre, watch him,” says the bossman, and then they find he isn’t.

Of course one of the things that pundits do is take the last performance as the absolute benchmark.  No one, in their line of thinking, is allowed to improve or develop or change.  So Campbell is not on because he didn’t do well against Sheffield W.  But Mr Wenger is a pastmaster at getting the out-of-salts player back to full confidence, and why not do it against Swansea with Campbell.

As for the other players who played against Wednesday I didn’t think Krystian Bielik was that bad and he was in a position in which it was hard for him to change the game once he came on.  I would not give up on him yet.

Meanwhile we’ve also got other attacking options: Iwobi, Akpom and Gnabry.

Now this brings us on to the issue of the benefit of loans.  Some players do well on loans, but I suspect that is a minority.   Too often managers of lesser clubs take the players on loan and think they are just going to go in and set the world alight, without realising that these are youngsters who get very special and careful treatment at Arsenal.

The word is that Gnabry and Dan Crowley are having a hard time at the moment and some reports say it is already agreed that Dan Crowley will return to Arsenal early from Barnsley.   But then he has played in 13 games for Barnsley, so it doesn’t seem he has been a total failure.

Of Gnabry Mr W said at the press conference, “Serge Gnabry is on loan at West Brom for the season.   I heard that Tony Pulis is not happy with him. He has to change the opinion of Tony Pulis because I think that Serge Gnabry has the quality to play in the Premier League. He has shown that.

“It’s good that he faces this kind of battle because it will make him stronger if the turns the opinion of Tony Pulis around. I hope that he’s facing the challenge and is putting the effort in.”

That sounds to me like the sort of talk irate parents give to their children who they’ve sent off to boarding school, telling them to grow up and face the problems.  Trouble is when the children do complain about bullying, torment and psychological damage, sometimes they can be telling the truth.  Would you like to train under the Pulis regime?

In the past Mr Wenger has always managed to pull something out of the hat, and this time around I wouldn’t put it past him to come up with something as unexpected as the return of Coquelin last year.  And speaking of that, remember that Coquelin’s time with SC Freiburg was considered a disaster, because of a very difficult manager who played him out of position, and often refused to talk to him.  And he came back and…


  • 30 October 1897: Woolwich Arsenal beat St Albans 9-0 in FA Cup.  This time there was only one hat trick (Hunt) with the other goals coming from Brock, Haywood, Steven, McGeoch, Davis, and Farrell.  The crowd was just 3,000.
  • 30 October 1909: Man U 1 Arsenal 0; commentaries in the press focussed on the dangers of the pitch on the dangers of the pitch – which was placed beside a chemicals factory.   Man U moved to Old Trafford in 1910. See also here.

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10 Replies to “How a bad experience on loan can transform a player into one of the top players in Europe”

  1. According to Lee Johnson, the Barnsley coach, Arsenal recalled Dan Crowley!

    Serge Cnabry, has been out injured for 18 months. It would seem that Tony Pullis, was answering a question, set by worried Arsenal followers, worried by Gb=nabry’s lack of playing time?

    WBA are sitting very nicely in mid-table, thank you very much, so how can Gnabry do a Ramsay? Reading a local paper, the Express & Star, the Albion have a renowned medical facility? Repairing damaged players, so that are “fit for purpose”.

    The local press are far more factual about football matters, than the Nationals!!

  2. Tony,

    Coquelin’s spell in Germany, Freiburg was as bad it gets for any young player in a new country.

    He was sent off in his debut match. He constantly played on the right and left wings by the manager (totally out of position for a defensive player like him). Freiburg barely survived relegation that season. And worst of it all, he was voted the third worst player in the whole league.

    He is a living example for any young player, that no matter how difficult and bad experiences you go through, you can still be successful and make amazing progress for yourself.

    Right now Joel Campbell is similar situation (went through numerous loan spells). There is a vacant position in right wing due to injuries, and he is the only first team player available who can play the position as a natural. He should follow Coquelin’s example and take this opportunity to kickstart his Arsenal career and make a name for himself.

  3. Coquelin was amazing at Charlton Athletic. They were begging to keep him. Wenger didn’t really gamble much in recalling him.

  4. Tony,

    A bit off topic: While there is no exact correlation between the Injury League and the PL table, it’s worth noting the positions of State Aid Utd and Mr. Ranieri’s squad in both standings. They are both sitting close to the top in PL and to the bottom in IL, which suggests they are overachieving at the moment. Maybe the victories of Mr. Bilic over the Top 4 are not that much of a coincidence. Also, this highlights even more our performance at Leicester.

    Really hope Joel Campbell can get a string of matches to finally give him a chance. He battled the opponent defenders single-handedly during the Fick FUFA’s WC in successive matches, he couldn’t do that just by accident. Maybe extended match time is what he needs to start delivering.

  5. Sir Tony,
    I am beginning to despair. Which team do you refer to as “bring back flogging” and why?Could it be the same team that goes by “no democracy today” in the next table? High time you include an Untold dictionary button to help some of us thicker skulls.
    Thank you.

  6. Yes, time for other to impress now. I wonder who will make that step up, hopefully more than one or two. 🙂

  7. It looks like it’s Campbell for today’s game. Arsene has thrown enough hints, so good for him and hope he doesn’t disappoint .

  8. Sir Tony.
    I want to suggest you people try to synchronize Untold Comments across platforms like Twitter, Facebook’s and blog.

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