By Tony Attwood
It is a story that has often been pushed around: Arsenal are in trouble because they have such a small squad.
Give me Sport for example on 1 February this year led with the headline Arsenal’s squad depth is seriously concerning, continuing with the sarcastic note that “Perhaps the only saving grace for the Gunners is the fact that their small squad will not be overexerted in the remainder of the 2021/22.”
And, of course, even when the size of the squad is not being questioned, their quality can be as when Jamie Redknapp labelled Arsenal ‘a team full of kidders’
Football.London had been pursuing this point also claiming, “Once again Arsenal will be unable to name a full 25-man Premier League squad for the second half of the season.” That was on 2 February as, they said, “Mikel Arteta was only able to name a 21-man squad in the summer as he utilised the full allocation of 17 overseas players, but he couldn’t name eight homegrown players with Hector Bellerin and Reiss Nelson being loaned out.”
That was all part of the daily story of Arsenal incompetence, and it conveniently forgot that of course Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe are not counted as part of the 25 man list because they are not old enough to be counted. And if Arsenal now filled up its homegrown player list with new players bought in to make up the 25, then as Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe all come of age, other players brought in just for the sake of numbers, would then have to leave again.
That in turn would not do any good to Arsenal’s reputation in the field of recruiting young players and would mean that the likes of Folarin Balogun, Omar Rekik, Charlie Patino, Omari Hutchinson and Salah-Eddine Oulad would start wondering if they will ever get a chance. As it is they look at Martinelli, Smith Rowe and Saka and know that if you are good enough, you play.
But behind the issue the mindless media has raised, there is an interesting (but, as ever, left unmentioned) point. Which is that is not a case of absolute numbers but of comparison. Are Arsenal the real outsiders in terms of how many players we have in the squad, or are we just like other teams?
The implication from the media is always the former – Arsenal are the one useless club. But the reality is generally the latter and fortunately in this case, we do have available to us Football Observatory who once again come to the rescue with data rather than petulant and mindless gibberish.
From their tables, we can see that Arsenal have put out 27 different players this season in the league games. The largest number in the League is 32 players used by Everton. And if Football.London and the rest want to put up Everton as a representative of how player management should be done, good luck to them. Here’s the league table in the lower reaches…
And at the top of the table of clubs using the most players are, Watford, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Leeds United. So, far from Arsenal being dumb by not having and using enough players, the clubs that do use the most players are near the foot of the table.
Arsenal have in fact fielded 27 players this season – the same as Liverpool. Just two more than Manchester City, who seem to know a little bit about how to win the league.
So the story is total, absolute, tripe, because it contains no comparisons. And this is the eternal problem of the football media in England. It picks a story and says “shock horror” but gives no information to allow the readership to draw a conclusion.
The fact is that the number of players fielded by a team is dependent on injuries, and the form of the team, as well as adjustments made when a new player joins the squad.
Arsenal have been engaged in this to some degree, as Martin Odegaard (recently called by the Telegraph “Arsenal’s new leader” in a piece in which they suggest he is “justifying his lofty expectations”) has become a central player in the team and thus requires that the roles of Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli to be are adjusted around him.
In fact it is that issue, of fitting those four glorious young players into the team together that leads to thoughts that Martinelli might be moved upfront ahead of the Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe midfield. But that debate is perhaps for another occasion.
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