This week’s column has been inspired by our latest signing, Victor Thompson.
The frustration, disappointment and (perhaps) disillusionment that transpire from his words of yesterday are totally understandable and I am sure many fans are sharing his views.
I don’t – at least not completely.
I feel his frustration when I see some of our players looking jaded; I see his disappointed when I witness the lack of options available on the bench and I understand the disillusion when injuries hit again and again.
However, I do not agree with Victor when he says that Arsène Wenger is in denial about injuries striking the same players in the same periods and I can’t agree with him when he laments lack of cover that costed us the Capital One Cup against Sheffield Wednesday and maybe points in the league.
I recall how hard it was to be the back-up of another midfielder, back to my playing days: I was nowhere near professional football and I was not competing with the best in the world but I was still fighting for a starting place in my team with footballers of my same level – which is basically what professional footballers do all the time, at their insanely high level.
I could train as hard as possible and try to get ready in case the boss needed me but I knew that I would only get some minutes time here and there and I had to perform on that very exact moment or I’d keep warming the bench. That wasn’t easy – that was probably the most difficult challenge I had: it was impossible to be ready and I failed to impress the gaffer quite often.
At some point, I started having doubts about what I could really do on a football pitch and I was either too hesitant or hyperactive, with some calamitous results.Then, one day, my teammate got a three-games ban and I suddenly had a proper chance to break into the team and get some playing time. My first game was bang average, the second was pretty decent and in the third one I made an impact, getting some positive vibes and starting to look more and more at ease – like I used to be.
This is the problem with back-up players: they rarely perform on a one-off, especially if they didn’t play for a long time. Confidence is very low when you are not playing and fitness is simply not there, hence it is impossible to have a proper impact.
Yet, we would love to have an experienced player as third-choice winger and would fully expect him to play his best football when called upon – knowing that it could be five or six times during the entire season. It doesn’t work – and that’s clearly not because of my failures as a footballer but because Mathieu Débuchy, Joel Campbell and many other so-called fringe player proved that to us.
Can it really be a coincidence that Joel Campbell started to deliver some encouraging performances as soon as he got consecutive games? How comes that Mathieu Débuchy looks less and less woeful now that he played three games in a row?
We’ve all seen what happened to Juan Cuadrado, Marko Marin, Kevin de Bruyne and Mohamed Salah at Chelsea; we’ve seen a player like Falcao disappear from the radars as soon as he couldn’t get playing time at Manchester United and Chelsea.
Not sure this is the direction we really want to take.
Ideally, you want to give your most promising youngsters a chance, from time to time.
Players like Alex Iwobi and Nacer Bennacer had to wait for Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky to be unavailable at the same moment (which is quite exceptional even for the Arsenal standards) to get a chance to play. When would they ever play if they had another two experienced players in front of them, in the pecking order?
This is the kind of gamble you have to take, as a manager.
That long list of crocked players leads me to the injury problem and Arsène Wenger not being overly fussed about this issue: I know it could look like that, but the Arsenal made some significant additions to their back-room staff – most notably Shad Forshyte – to address the matter: we have people looking after players under every possible aspect of their lives – from day to day training to diet.
The manager himself repeatedly highlighted how each player has a specific training regime and how complex is the work in place to keep players fit. We have a brand new Performance Enhancement team behind the scene, at one point we were signing more backroom staff than players!
We currently have seven players out, three of which suffered traumatic injuries and not muscular ones (Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky) hence not predictable/avoidable as such; of the remaining four players currently out, three are back in training and should be fit for the next game – and stayed out for three to four weeks only, which sounds reasonable compared to what happened in the past.
I do believe that we are improving in this area, too.
We had barely any injured from January 2015 to the end of last season and didn’t have many players injured during pre-season and the first two months of this campaign. We had a terrible period between October and November and surely seeing both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott limping off in the space of ten minutes didn’t help the perception that our players are way too fragile.
I don’t mean to be too optimistic or perhaps naive, but I feel that our squad is not short at all. It might look so at the moment but overall Arsène Wenger will have to make some very controversial calls when everyone is fit. I don’t like to repeat myself but we needed to have seven first-time players, playing more or less in the same area of the pitch, to really be allowed to complain about how short the team is.
We were all very disappointed to see Spurs players outrunning us in midfield – during the first half – and we were all really upset not to win and leapfrog Manchester City at the top of the table but we’re still there and we are about to get some fresh legs and quality players back.
The bigger picture look bright, Gooners.