When Wenger said, “This is the strongest squad,” what did he mean?

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By Walter Broeckx

A few weeks ago Wenger told on Arsenal.com that this squad was the strongest he has ever had.  

After that we had 2 losses in a row and rather painful ones. One on a dreadful Saturday in North London and the other in Portugal, where for some reason Arsenal never has a good game. Is it the climate over there?

You could hear the laughter in the media about that French manager who hasn’t won anything for 5 years and who suddenly was pretending to have the best squad he has ever had. And then losing two games. Let’s have some fun with him.

And of course those of you who go to other blogs and Arsenal websites have all read the ‘sack Wenger as he has lost it’ headlines after his statement that were followed by those two defeats. But I really do think that most of those other blogs actually don’t understand what Wenger is saying. Or maybe they don’t want to understand what he really was saying.

Wenger was not saying: “oh, with this squad I will be winning every game from now one.” No, this is what some thought he was saying but I think Wenger has been around long enough to know that it doesn’t work that way. Even the best team in the world, and let us presume that it is Barcelona for the moment, loses some games. Even in a league where you have only 2 real good teams, 3 a bit average teams, and 15 poor teams. And poor in every sense goes in fact for all of those teams in Spain.

What Wenger was saying that he has so much players available at every position he has a very big choice. And certainly when all the players are fit. Let us take a look at the players and form some teams with them to explain what he means.

Let us start with the defence:

Fabianski or  Sczcesny(Almunia)

Sagna-Djourou-Vermaelen-Clichy or Eboue-Squillaci-Koscielny-Gibbs

Now we all can have our favourites in defence or the one we don’t like that much but all 8 backs are replaceable at any time without losing to much quality. Last year when Vermaelen and Gallas got injured we had to play with Campbell and Silvestre. And however big a player Campbell has been for us, he was just a bleak shadow of that player. Some might call it blasphemy but they were a very poor partnership and I even wrote an article about their weaknesses. But now I really feel confident about any combination Wenger might pick from those 8 players. I do have my preferences which I wrote down a few days ago but I feel comfortable about them all.

Lets go to midfield and there we have even more options. Let us start from a 3 man midfield trio with one defensive midfielder. Different types for different situations but I take them both.

Song or  Denilson.

And let us go to the offensive midfield positions:

Cesc-Wilshere or  Nasri – Rosicky

And while we are at it,  let us roll out the attack:

Walcott – Chamakh – Arshavin or do you prefer Van Persie – Bendtner – Vela

Those are two teams of 11 players who might start any game for us and I feel we are in with a good chance of winning it. And the best part is you can change any player in these different teams without bringing the quality down that much.

And I do realise that there are midfielders who can be played in attack, like Nasri or Rosicky and in fact you could also drop a player like Van Persie or Arshavin to a midfield role if needed.

And on top of this we still didn’t mention Diaby who was having a good season until he got kicked off the field by that Bolton twat and then again by Essien from Chelsea.

And we still got Ramsey who will be back very soon and hopefully back to his best like he was when he got kicked off the field by that thug Shawcross.

And then we got some youngsters coming after that like Nordtveit in defence who can play in the centre and at right back.

And then we have Frimpong who was so impressive in the preseason until he injured his knee.

And then in January we are awaiting some young guy named Wellington Silva who has been on the field some 17 times as a 17 year old for his club Fluminense in Brazil. Fluminense who just has been crowned champions in Brazil. So he will be another player to fill in somewhere in these teams.

In fact the squad is so strong for the moment that very talented youngsters like Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Eastmond and Lansbury hardly can get in to the squad for the Carling cup.

So every where in the team there are at least 2 players for each position and in some cases even more who can replace each other. A lot of players can hardly get on the bench for some games and they are full internationals for their country.

In recent months we have seen Wenger rotate his squad at times with 7 or 9 players and still the team was as good as the game before and capable of winning any game. Not saying actually winning any game but never been outplayed by the other team. On occasion being outdone by our own failures.  And if all our players are fit Wenger will have the option to replace his full team and put another team on the field and change it over and over. And even then there will be some players unhappy because they have to sit on the bench.

Does this mean we are unbeatable and will win every game? It would be nice, but as we are playing real football and not some kind of computer game this will not really happen. Because players are human and can make mistakes. And sometimes it doesn’t work out like you planned in a game.

But that our squad is strong and has depth is not just wishful thinking. As I have just told and showed you we have two full squads (if everyone fit) and you can play them in any kind of combination just as you like it or need it.

The only thing is that some of these players are still rather young and still need to grow a bit. But just look at this wealth in our squad (and with many still so young and only starting to come nearer to the best period in their football lives between 23-24 and 30). If we can keep this squad together for the next 10 years and only replace the older ones when their time has come,  with some new fresh talents we will see great things.

Life, the universe, Arsenal

Why are you always going on about the past?

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40 Replies to “When Wenger said, “This is the strongest squad,” what did he mean?”

  1. bravo. This is on of the best posts that i’ve certainly seen over a long time. Do keep it up man

  2. Good one Walter. I think that people who still call for more purchases fail to understand what it must be like to sit on the bench when you are a great player. What would happen if we bought Torres in January? It would strengthen our team – I think. RvP would have to play on the wing and that means that Nasri or Arshavin warms the bench. I cannot see either of them staying if that was the case. Bendtner would definitely go, while Chamakh would now be third choice and would be unhappy in his late twenties. Theo must be unhappy already – this might be the straw!

    So even if our team is strengthened, our squad is weakened and serious damage has been done to our team spirit.

    In order to buy a CB or DM we need to ditch players, both for the type of reason I have just discussed and from the point of view of the 25 player limit. I am not so impressed with SS, but he is probably outstanding as a 4th choice CB. If we bring in ?? to partner TV, what happens to DJ and LK? They drop down one in the pecking order – will they stay?

    Same story in the midfield. My nephew thinks we should get rid of Denilson and buy someone better (who?) When Ramsey and Diaby get back to fitness, with the promotion up the pecking order of Wilshere and the likely promotion of Ramsey by the end of the season, will Denilson stay anyway?

  3. ” kicked off the field by that Bolton twat” Walter, I have to say you sound just like a native speaker when you write, great stuff.

    Nice article by the way, you can see the strength of our squad by the Carling Cup sides we’ve been putting out.

  4. The reason why we wouldn’t, as you say, lose any quality in the CB’s position is because we play at a low quality at the back. Except Vermaelen who is solid more often than not, all our other players don’t ever look solid on or off the ball. Squillaci is past his personal best which was never good enough for Arsenal anyway. Koscielny has shown some glimpses of class but he’s got no confidence whatsoever and he’s error prone.

    As for Denilson, I hate that player. I simply cannot see a one single quality thing he does for the team. He was at fault for the goal we conceded against Partizan, and besides that I’m never happy to see him play because it’s like playing with one player less in the midfield.

    Song plays a more advanced role this season and yet he doesn’t know how to run with the ball with no one around, never mind his passing rate at below 50%, and his famous chips over the back line and into the stands.

    IMO we had a much, much better team in 2006 and 2007 with Hleb, a healthy Rosicky, Adebayor, Flamini and Gilberto, and I still to this day don’t understand how we haven’t won anything with that team.

  5. My biggest issue at the moment is the TV injury. We were told it was only gonna be a few weeks, now its January “but we dont really know”. How can they not know? If he is out for the season, that surely puts January in a different light. I feel the club havent been totally honest over this.

  6. Spot on!!! Infect, i believe that has a production line for every position.. even some good young players might not even make it to our team. Arsenal could even make a third team with youngsters maybe fighting for promotion in the championship. Looking at the other teams that are now suffering from Arsenal jinx and not able to cope, we have a strong chance this year!

  7. Actually, this is one of the very few statements which i feel Wenger has been wrong about. If he had said that ‘We have the squad with the greatest potential’ or ‘We have the squad with the most options available’, then i’d believe him. But i dont think this is the strongest squad he has had. Though i believe this squad has he potential to be the strongest in a few years time.

    If we directly compare our present team with the Invincibles, then you can see a reasonable gap between them.
    1st Gk- Fabianski as good as Lehmann?? Dont think so. Lehmann used to make those once in a blue moon errors but Fabianski can commit them in almost every match.

    Left back- Clichy better than Cole? No!! Clichy is a bit more error prone than the Ashley Cole of 2004.

    Right back- Sagna is probably as good as Lauren.

    Central Defence- Koscielny and Vermaelen as good as Campbell and Toure? Maybe u can say Vermaelen is as good but Koscielny or Squillaci or Djourou? Dont think so…

    DM- Song as good as Gilberto Silva? Definately no!!

    Midfielders- Cesc, Rosicky, Nasri as good as Viera, Pires and Ljungberg? We would be tempted to compare…but our invincible midfielders used to dominated oppositions like United during those times unlike our present midfielders.

    Strikers- Van Persie and Chamakh as good as Henry and Bergkamp? Definately no!!

  8. u can say that….but young players are always impatient when they are young and regret it later on……whats the guarantee that JET,lansbury will be holding on for a long time…they might go away when they get an opportunity just like bently,reyes,diarra(till joinin real) and who not!….it would be just waste of their own talent!

  9. Dark Prince your problem is you’re comparing our current team to the the invincibles, do you really have to do that? that is one of the reasons why you will always have problems with our team. with the invincibles we had a great first 11 but not necessarily the squad, fortunately we were lucky with injuries as well. Wenger is right, this is the strongest squad he’s ever had, this doenst mean that its the best team he’s ever had, it means he can replace anyone in the team without changing the structure of the team at all. that is why Arsenal do not have the starting 11 because anybody can be replaced at any time. THIS IS THE STRONGEST SQUAD WENGER HAS EVER HAD.

  10. Dark Prince,

    Wenger said ‘Strongest Squad’ and not the Best 11 or 15. Now we have a team of 25 or so very good players. We never had this depth.. Even during the invincibles.. The first 11 maynot be as good as the invincibles, but the squad definitely is..

    Moreover, the first 11 of the invincibles were at their peak while this squad except for few players are yet to reach their peak.. So Even in that sense, this squad is stronger…

  11. Indian Gooner – spot on.

    When all are fit, we can put out 3 teams with subs that would all finish in the top 15 or so. The SQUAD is immense but we are still lacking some desire if not skill.

  12. that’s a wonderful breakdown Mr walter. many people get wrong impression whenever wenger talks! as an educated person he thinks deeply before altering any words out. let us be optimistic that GUNNERS will surely lift something up this time!

  13. i agree it is our strongest squad number wise, attitude stinks at times though. never been a denilson hater, but ive bin watching him closer and the team as a whole, and boy do we seem to make the wrong choice 50% of the time, and if i was captain and saw denis lose the ball then casually jog back he’d get a dry slap! when rooney or nasri lose the ball what do they do? their pride kicks into overdrive and they’l chase em to the moon! even lil jack! but denis?….im afraid not and that attitude seems to be rubbing off on some others cos he stil gets played so its like the manager condones it?
    and another thing why do our players think their untouchable? how many times have we been knocked off the ball unfairly or otherwise and think the world should stop! ive found myself shouting at my own players to GET THE F**K UP! THERES STIL A F**KING GAME TO PLAY!!!
    the world owes us nothing, in fact the world would prefer us to rot! when are the players gonna realise we’re not manure, we have to give 100% extra.

  14. I see where dark prince is coming from, in fact, where i might skim through some comments on blogs from time to time i always read his, even though sometimes i may not agree with them(and sometimes i do) they are always well thought out and constructed.
    But i also agree with indian gooner, were talking best 25 not best 11. You could even compare Barcas current best 11 against the invincibles and they would come up short in areas.

    GK: Lehmann vs Valdes: Dam close in my opinion on the GK front. Couldnt choose between these two.

    LB: Maxwell/Abidal vs Cole: Cole wins hands down in my book(may my tongue turn to coal for giving that kunt praise)

    RB: Lauren vs Alves: Okay alves wins this but Lauren was still dam good.

    Central Defence: Campbell & Toure vs Pique & Puyol: Some may disagree but i dont even think theres a competition there, the Arsenal boys win this by a country mile

    DM- Busquets/Masch/keita vs Gilberto Silva? Silva gets the nod from me.

    Midfielders: Viera, Pires & Ljungberg vs Iniesta, Xavi & Messi: Okay heres where the different formations make things a bit hasey but im incuding Messi in midfield as Pedro and Villa play more advanced roles at barca. Messi walks into any team, if anyone thinks otherwise… … i cant even think of a way of expressing how wrong you are. But as good as people consider Xavi and Iniesta to be, i really think its a toss up between the other 5 for the other two places. All bring strengths and are overall pretty even as players.

    Strikers: Henry & Bergkamp vs Pedro & Villa: This was origionally going to be my main point but once i started comparing i couldnt stop. Henry and Bergkamp are so much better its not even funny. Its unfair to compare Van Persie & Chamakh to them. As a strike partnership there they really dont have an equivelent today, not even Real Madrid or Oil City with there unlimited funds or Barca with there super production line can assemble a strikeforce to compare.

    So even a team that are considered the best in the world at the moment, and to some the best ever(not to me), lose 7.5 players to 3.5 players when compared to the invincibles.

  15. Just to let you know, Young Guns are reporting that FIFA have reneged on their promise to grant Wellington a special talent visa (http://younggunsblog.co.uk/2010/12/arsenal-ready-to-appeal-silva-decision/). Bad bad news. He’s probably gonna have to be another Botelho for 3 years or so unless this appeal succeeds. People on Young Guns are understandably pissed off given that people like the Da Silvas and Denilson had no such problems. Another backlash from the media campaign and Wenger’s comments about the ridiculous World Cup process?

    Real shame. Same thing cost us a 17 yr old Ronaldinho.

  16. morning walter,
    it needed explaining, did’nt it? or not. another stupid misunderstanding doing the rounds is that alex song is ‘bombing forward’ and forgetting his position at DM, i know you have touched on this already but is there a way you can explain the gambit that is to press teams into their own half, keep them busy defending, you know- attacking football, but the inevitable consequence is that you need more than 4/5 players against their 10/11(if you include the goalkeeper) to keep the ball and score goals otherwise we would be like chelsea and who wants to watch that- all over the internet there are people crying out for problems to be addressed with our defensive record. the truth is wenger sees football as a spectacle and that the just reward for supporters is entertaining football, with teams narrowing the gap in terms of fitness, skill and tactical awareness(parking the bus,crunching tackles, long balls he he)you have to play to your strengths and ours is skill with the ball at our feet. the question ( as any competent game theorist or chess player will ask himself) then is what are you willing to sacrifice to ensure you come out on top and what strategies have you in place to deal what you have sacrificed?. we press much higher up the pitch to deny space and time for any counterattacks- thanks to another super signing-chamakh, and we have djourou, and koscielny at the back- both decent footballers but one is combative and has snuffs out danger and the other deals with long balls very well. the balance of the team is the key nd for one am happy as things are lets see what we get at united on monday as that will be a key test. Ps. do we know who the ref is yet? that might be a crucial factor. please please please not mike dean

  17. Tom – it is not quite dead and buries – the Wellington Silva thing. There is the appeal yet to happen, and we have won some appeals in the past.

  18. I’m glad you’re so optimistic Tony! We can indeed still hope, but given the record with Botelho, Vela and Galindo, I won’t be holding my breath. Let’s not forget, Vela had at that age won top goalscorer at the u-17 World Cup and was expected to be the next big thing, and that didn’t qualify as a “special talent”. God knows what Wenger and Fergie said when the Da Silvas and Denilson were presented to FIFA. It seems totally arbitrary (I may be being unfair – I’ve no insight into the process), and I can’t help but think they love kicking Wenger for insulting them over the World Cup.

  19. hello tony,
    where can we seek clarification on the rules and various jurisdictions of fifa , uefa , and our own home office with regard to special talent from beyond europe ?according to certain reports the ‘silver boot’ may have to be loaned out to a club in spain for a few years before he can come to the ems.if that is possible then that seems to suggest that the players’ acclimatization is key issue, i know that the home office do test you language skills and knowledge of life in england before granting a visa so that’s one sticking point. i saw this story on one blog yesterday and although i broadly trust this source me thinks this story would’nt be passed by a decent editor AND i posted a link the other day with mr ‘rainwater-resistant but keep away from naked flames’ himself training with us for the partizan game after being frozen out by his club in brazil, the poor sod got frozen in north london, thats gotta count for something with whoever deals with these things.

  20. Dark Prince it seems you see the truth in Wenger’s comment but just wants to have a tweak at it. I have share this sentiment way back before Wenger came up with this that this is our best squad under Wenger and that I will have this team right now over the invincibles. Padraic Connell has nailed it on.If you compare likes for likes then you hardly get a team that is better then the invincibles but as a squad or 25 and more we are solidly built for the present and the future. While the Invincibles have the strenght, guile, skill and techniques this team has all must more albeit short of strenght. The fluidity in movement and versatility of this squad is second to none.And they have age on their side which will help build their strength as they grow older.

  21. Great news people!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Frimpong is back on his feet and has started to train lightly…. I really would like to see him make up for the loss in games and come back stronger than pre-season.

  22. Maybe off topic-
    I read an article a few days ago in the Guardian about Arsenal defence, french and communication-this was after the Partizan match. I was left scratching my head as to the relevance of the piece. Did anyone notice?
    I wondered why the writer did not mention ManU defence, french, dutch, brazilian, serbian and english; or the Chelsea defence(and their various nationalities) for the matter. I never knew the British press were so francophobic, parochial and xenophobic.

    Thanks again, Walter for an insightful piece.

  23. Walter, you’re selectively gathering evidence to prove an already held belief. I don’t know how long you’ve been following Arsenal, but how many of the current squad make it into your all-time favourite XI ?

  24. It really shouldn’t need explaining what “the strongest squad” actually means, but obviously to some people this clarification is required!

    If the squad is fully fit you have a number of quality players who couldn’t get a place on the bench, let alone in the team. The first XI might not be the best we’ve ever had, but the squad depth certainly is.

    We have a total of 15 players out on loan, some of them with Premier League experience such as Mannone, Traore and Ramsey as well as some very talented youngsters. Yet we are top of the Reserve League having played 2 games less.

  25. @diba- maybe you didn’t read my comments completly. As i said, this is the best squad in terms of options. But eventually, you play only 11 players on the pitch. You dont put the whole squad out to play together. So what we have now is just a squad with a very good depth. But it does not mean its includes the strongest players we have or that we have the strongest team ever. Its not the strongest squad, its just the deepest squad (squad with lots of depth)

  26. I think many people here are misunderstanding the difference between ‘strength’ and ‘depth’.

    Also i dont need to take a tweak at Wenger for any reason. I rate him as the best manager of our lifetime.

  27. ….i think we have the strongest team ever….we had setbacks ….but these will end…..and we gonna see the fruition of five year building effort…..

  28. DP – It is just semantics isnt it? I think most of us believe that when AW was saying it was his strongest squad ever he meant that he has never had the options he has now. I dont think AW would ever be so silly as to compare the starting 11 from 2002-05 to this side simply because this side hasnt won anything yet. Until the current team wins a Championship there is no comparison.

    But the fact is that the team from 02-05 was relatively thin in terms of depth. Campbell’s injury in 03 costing us the title is a case in point. We had no cover. The depth of that side consisted of people like Cygan. We were actually remarkably free of injuries in our 2 title winning seasons, with the exception of Pires in the first of those seasons.

  29. @ rohit
    Great news to hear Frimmpong is back and doing some light training!!!
    I think Jet and Frimmpong really do have bright futures and lets hope Wenger give them some playing time and the will be patient. Would be sad if we lost them in way Upson and Bentley left years ago.
    As for Wellington Silva what a player he looks set to be!!!
    @ Tom and Tony
    Im sure Wenger will find him a fake passport somewhere and will see him here in January. If not will just offer Sepp Blatter a back-hander to grant him his visa.
    Just joking, seriously im with Tony somereason I think we will win the appeal. I mean in Brazil raving on that Silva and Neymar are the next 2 biggest things so if that not enough to win a special talent visa……..

  30. Paul C- yea i agree that if its the squad depth we’re talkin about then, we have the best in epl. But i think the word ‘strongest’ was not the exact word which should had been used. I think thats the reason for all the misinterpretation.

  31. t6he problem is man city have a very “strong squad” but its the first 11 and sad to say its our back 5 that is lacking in the first 11 because if you compare our back 5 with chelsea the current champions who out of the defence and goal keeper would get in may be TV5 possibly sagna?

    we have many options which hopefully means we are not one dimensional, some of our players are not ripe just yet thats why our first 11 is not quite there yet

  32. I think one thing misunderstood by many of the moaners by Wenger’s best squad comment was that he was not saying this is his best team, 1 – 11, but best squad 1 – 25 or more accurately 12 – 35.

    By the way I’d like the moaners to look up two Arsenal games involving match day squads full of players who had already won FAPL’s and FAC’s with Arsenal and would go on to do so again, many part of the invincibles, first game was on 25th Feb 2001 the second Nov 4th 2001

    Manu 6 – 1 Arsenal

    Arsenal 2 – 4 Charlton

    but of course the moaners ignore such results when talking up the great mean defense of yesterday year, the fortress highbury, the george graham trained defensive masters, just like they ignore that two years before Wenger arrived the famous back five conceeded 49 league goals and the team finished 12th, and one year before he arrived Bruce Rioch was so concerned by the defense that he went with a back 6, a five man defense, but of course it was GG who taught the 98 double winners how to defend etc etc

  33. Dark Prince-I get you but strength in depth in itself is strength on its own. Strongest is exactly the word to be used because having accessed the strength of his previous team he could technically and tactically grade their strength and as such he made the comment. Even if the squad has not lived up to it full potential it is quite right to say this bunch is the strongest he has had.

  34. @eduardo

    the man u 6–1 malling was down to one man stepanovs who should have never worn an arsenal shirt and you have pretty much quoted rare instances, the current squad you could lose count of the shocking defensive displays, I am sorry to say the first 11 of the invincibles had world class players you only have to mention bergkamp henry pires veira campbell lehman

    The team of 2004 had few weaknesses, this team is not there yet,

    yes of course the invincibles didnt have a good squad but they didnt get injured too badly. I know I dont stand alone in saying if I could take the first 11 of 2004 in their prime over this team I would even though the squad is better may be in a few years time i might change my opinion. My worry is clichy is as good as he is gonna get the same with sagna, arshavin aint going to get any better either, Thank god we have number 4 and 8

  35. Dark prince since u such a smart ass why dont you compare the age of the invincibles to our current squad.

    I think you should be inline to take wengers place as u always think you know better.

    I dont ever recall you ever agreeing with wenger and no a back handed compliment doesnt count.

  36. Diba- Maybe we have different opinions on this, And to be honest, the depth we have now is of no use if we dont have a fully fit squad. You have to ask yourselves, would u rather have a squad with an exceptional starting 11 fully fit most of the time or have a ‘strong’ squad which is has its best players either unfit or injured for most of the time. I’d choose the former.

    What we need to achieve is a fully fit squad with lots of options. I think we are half way there, only thing we need to curb now is the injuries.

  37. @superfly gunner- maybe you dont know about me that well. I’ve written articles for this site, explaining how Wenger’s youth system is going to become the biggest asset to Arsenal. How we wont be buying any players above 21yrs of age for a decade atleast. So you dont have to prove yourselves as a smart ass.

  38. Walter…. I must disagree with you… I personally thought he was talking more in terms of potential (and i think managers think and read players very differently than us fans)

    We often compare our side with those of the early 2000’s with Viera, Pires Hanry and co. side. I think he meant it more literally and in terms of potential, not to forget that other teams are stronger than teams back then.

    I honestly believe in this premiership era, a regular top 4 finish is very special, also let this team peak… and peak as a unit! should they start filling in the trophy cabinet – they will generally be be considered the strongest arsenal team

  39. Disagree mate. you are confusing quantity with quality. Forget the numbers in every position, the issue is are they good enough. The fact that you can take some players out of the starting XI and their replacements don’t weaken the team doesn’t mean the replacements are good enough – it means the starting XI isn’t good enough.

    It is diffcult to assess “strong” and “weak” and “depth” so don’t worry about that – instead ask how many players have we got that our rivals covet. then compare to that to the number we had in 2002-2004. No contest. In terms of quality this is Wenger’s worse squad by a long way.

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