“My optimism, and I surprise myself in saying this, is down to a renewed faith in our squad players over that of our rivals and particularly those on the blue side of Manchester.”– Dave Seager.
Granted, Dave said this a couple of days before our deflating 1-1 draw at Norwich so I’m not entirely sure as to his levels of optimism since, but reading his latest post on his site got me thinking about it. I know it’s not the best time to talk up our title credentials (indeed I think it’s the first time I’m even alluding to Arsenal being title contenders), but other results over the weekend meant that our 1-1 stalemate will probably not be catastrophic in the bigger picture. We’re just two points behind league leaders and main rivals Manchester City after 14 games, with the first meeting of the two sides slated for December 21st, and with games against Sunderland and Aston Villa sandwiched in between. I would have gone ahead to term those games “winnable”, but we all know how Norwich and West Brom went.
We’ve been matching City in recent weeks, with both sides picking up 11 points and scoring 11 goals in their last six games, which of course also suggests that our dip in form has pretty much coincided with theirs. Injury-wise, we’ve both missed the services of key first-team players for large swathes of the season thus far (think David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero; Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Francis Coquelin). We’ve scored six less than City, conceded three less, taken four less shots on goal (244-248) and created six more chances (194-188), etc. For Arsenal to keep this up over the course of 38 matches we will need squad depth to match that of Manchester City, which brings me back to Dave’s quote.
Manchester City’s starting XI in their 2-1 reverse against West Ham in September was the most expensive in Premier League history at £308.8m, and that is hardly breaking news. That is not to say our own squad was put together using sticks and duct tape either, but our starting XI in our corresponding fixture that weekend cost £145.5m. Since everyone will be focused on making a combined Manchester City-Arsenal starting XI, how about we look at the strength and quality of our reserve players instead? As Dave points out in passing, Arsene Wenger has steadily built a squad that I certainly feel can compete with that of Manchester City. We’re not talking David Silva vs Mesut Ozil but Nicolas Otamendi vs Calum Chambers; not Vincent Kompany vs Laurent Koscielny but Jack Wilshere vs Fabian Delph.
Got your interest yet?
Let’s first establish whom we deem as reserve players. Here’s my Arsenal second starting XI (some positions may be up for debate): Ospina- Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs- Arteta, Wilshere- Welbeck, Rosicky, Chamberlain- Giroud. You could for instance pick Joel Campbell over Tomas Rosicky and shift Chamberlain central, but it’s up to you really. Also, prior to Theo Walcott’s injury he was first-choice and I’m merely assuming that situation remains so. For City, I’d go with: Caballero- Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Clichy- Navas, Fernando, Delph, Nasri- Iheanacho, Bony. Again, some explaining to be done: Pablo Zabaleta has barely played this season owing to a bad knee but he was first-pick before then, and Jesus Navas only started games before Kevin de Bruyne signed or while David Silva has been injured. With that sorted out, who would make it into your combined XI? Well I prepared a little table to influence your decision-making as far as the defence is concerned, just because my name is Lloyd Gitonga and I like tables:
|(Per game) Stats||Chambers*||Otamendi||Gabriel||Demichelis|
*Stats from the 2014/2015 EPL season
|(Per game) Stats||Debuchy*||Sagna||Gibbs*||Clichy*|
*Stats from the 2014/2015 EPL season
First off, I hadn’t known Demichelis was this terrible. And he’s as old as Diego Costa. It’s little wonder then that all three of City’s defeats came in games that Kompany did not feature in. In fact City’s record in league games with Kompany is W6 D2, while without their captain it’s W3 L3. Arsenal’s struggles without our first-choice centre-back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are not as profound. With Clichy aged 30 and Sagna 32, City have two players who aren’t getting any younger or any better (and Zabaleta turns 31 next month as well). The average age of City’s back line, first choice and second string, is 29.75 while Arsenal’s is 26.5. But anyway. Debuchy is also a better defender than Sagna, and while Sagna is better in possession, he’s two years older too.
Further forward, I believe the choices are easier to make. Some like Wilshere over Delph and Chamberlain over Iheanacho are no-brainers. The Wilfried Bony of Swansea would have gotten in ahead of Giroud, but the bench doesn’t suit the Ivorian as much. I also went with Welbeck over Navas because of his greater goal threat. Overall, here’s my combined XI: Ospina- Debuchy, Otamendi, Gabriel, Gibbs- Fernando, Wilshere- Welbeck, Nasri, Chamberlain- Giroud. I hope you agree with me, but let me know what you think in the comments section below.
If only we could get the all fit!