Does Wenger actually know how to rotate a squad challenging for the title?

Or does he want to rotate?
Or does he want to rotate?

A title to draw you in but a serious question that needs to be asked because whilst we as supporters are desperate for more signings are we ready for what that means for current favourites. I am not against strengthening the squad because it has quite obviously fallen short. Although, I do wonder how much of that is down to our luck or otherwise with injuries? We saw City win the league in 2012 using about 16 players and yet at the same time bemoaned or own lack of depth.

I have written on this subject a few years ago but the inspiration is the stock statement from many fans I keep reading, that we need the depth so Wenger can rotate the squad and keep everyone fresh. We need those who step in to be almost as good as those who hold the shirts when all are fit. My genuine question is will Wenger rotate the squad and what evidence is there that he has done so in the Premier League. We all know he has done it in the League Cup and to a degree in the FA Cup but does he actually do it in the league?

If he does not do so, does the stock piling first team players, particularly in midfield, actually make sense for the balance and happiness of the current squad? We all seem to want a brand shiny new player to play the deeper pivot or the DM role and I include myself in that. However I am not the one who happily says it is a squad game and Arteta, Cazorla, Rosicky, Wilshere, Flamini , Oxlade-Chamberlain and Diaby will still get plenty of minutes on the pitch. Will they, will they really? What all of them??? I am not so sure about that. You see the facts all suggest that when Wenger knows his best 11 and it is working he seldom moves to rotate or change the starters, particularly in the league and in Europe.

Regulars 2014/15??
Regulars 2014/15??

Maybe this is just my memory playing tricks on me as it is not what it used to be as I am not getting any younger. Let’s look at the evidence using our most successful campaigns this century under Wenger in the Premier League.

2002 – League and FA Cup Winners

Rotated for freshness? NO
Rotated for freshness? NO

In the defence the team was pretty much set. Seaman was the keeper but unusually injuries allowed both Wright and Taylor to get 14 and 9 starts to Seaman’s 17. That aside the back four was Lauren, 27, Keown, 21, Campbell, 29 and Cole, 29. Adams, Luzhny, Upson and Grimandi all stepped in but only really due to injury and not rotation or resting. Adams injured most of the season was always going to return when fit.

The left and right midfield berths were shared between only 3 players and Wiltord only stepped back to the right when Pires was injured and Ljungberg switched to the right. All 3 of them played between 23 and 27 games in the league and only Parlour, most used in the centre played a few games on the right of midfield.

In the centre Vieira started 35 of the 38 games with Parlour predominantly starting alongside him with 25 starts. Van Bronckhorst and Edu only started 13 and 8 matches in the league.

Up front one Wiltord who had been rotating with Bergkamp moved to the right it was truly only Henry and the Dutchman with 31 and 22 starts each. Kanu began just 9 league fixtures.

Outside of the Keepers only 13 players began more than 13 matches

2004 – Premier League Champions

We all know the 11
We all know the 11

If I asked any Arsenal fan to name the starting 11 for the 2003/4 campaign 100% would come up with the same 11. Of that 11 only Bergkamp did not start more than 25 games and 9 began 28 or more of the 38 unbeaten league fixtures.

Yes Clichy, Parlour, Edu, Reyes, Wiltord and Cygan played their parts but of them only Parlour began more than 15 times in the 38 matches. Will the likes of Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla be happy to walk out in the staring 11 on 10 or less occasions?

In the unbeaten campaign of 2003/4 7 players started 30 or more games and 5 more than 20. In essence the squad rotation in the league was non-existent and used only in the second half of matches already won, in the main.

Only 12 players stared 20 or more matches and 11 of them over 25.

 2008 – Pushed to the title until April

In 2007/8 Arsenal had a settled side in the main and many look to St Andrews and Eduardo and Gallas as the turning point. I personally feel the pivotal moment was the injury to Rosicky in the January upsetting a perfect 4 of Hleb, Flamini, Fabregas and Mozart operating an effective diamond.

The set 11 changed when TR7 injured Jan 08
The set 11 changed when TR7 injured Jan 08

Even with the Eduardo and Roisicky injuries however 9 players started 29 games of more in the league for Arsenal and Wenger that season and the rose tinted specs make many of us forget that Eduardo only played regularly once van Persie was injured.

The starting 11 was settled swiftly and Wenger barely rotated at all – Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Hleb, Flamini, Fabregas, and Adebayor always played.

With Rosicky out Eboue and Walcott shared the right midfield role in the main and Diaby occasionally played on the left. Eduardo, RVO and on a few occasions Bendtner played with Adebayor.

The likes of Gilberto, Senderos, Walcott, Diaby, Song and Bendtner were bit part players in a season that promised so much and delivered so little. However once more there is precious little evidence to suggest Wenger was confident in rotating away from his first choice 11 when it came to staring line ups in the Premier League.

9 players played 29 or more matches with only 6 others even in double figures and had Rosicky not been injured it would have been 10 players in the first group for sure.

 2011 – Still in all competitions until February and in the Premiership race until April

Another season that promised so much and another in which all the supporters could name the side Wenger would select if all were fit. Indeed was it not for the long term injury to Vermaelen the task would have been easier still.

Rotation? Not really
Rotation? Not really

The goalkeeper position was in flux with Almunia, Fabianski and Szczeney all getting runs but the defence had 3 certainties in Clichy, Sagna and Koscileny all of whom started over 30 games in the league. Djourou and Squillaci shared the other CB berth.

In midfield if fit it was Song, Wilshere and Fabregas with Nasri and Arshavin or Walcott wide and Chamakh up top until RVP was fit and then it was only RVP.

Outside of these 13 outfield players only Diaby reached double figures in the Premier League with Gibbs, Vermaelen, Eboue, Rosicky  and Denilson all starting just a handful of games each.

Six players started more than 30 matches and only 10 players began 20 or more. Only 13 players reached double figures for starts in the league that season.

 So what?

Do the fans care if many of our loyal players and long standing first teamers don’t play much?

Do they still feel based on the evidence feel that Wenger will constantly rotate the starting 11 even when in 2003/4 with outstanding players such as Keown, Parlour, Edu, Reyes and Kanu on the bench he did not do so?

Is there any evidence based on last season to suggest Wenger will not start Ramsey and Ozil in every game if they are fit? This leaves one midfield slot only up for grabs is the formation remains 4231.

Last season the only position he actively rotated was at left back to a degree and the deep CM role, although not in key games.

Last season 6 players started 30 or more league games – Szczeney, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Giroud and Cazorla. We could safely add Ozil and Ramsey  to that list had they been fit and available.

I strongly suggest that a new DM if he arrived along with Szczeney, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscileny, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott and Sanchez will start most of the games next season. I may even be tempted to add Giroud to that if Wenger sets up how I think he will.

Yes we need depth and yes we have an awful track record with injuries but do we honestly think that Wilshere, Ox, Arteta. Flamini, Rosicky, Diaby, Cazorla, Campbell and Podolski will share the 2 remaining outfield slots not filled?

If the new DM is not arriving I accept that there is a 4 player competition for that role alongside Rambo so realistically only 2 can play.

If Sanchez is played wide along with Walcott when fit, Ox, Podolski and Campbell are fighting for any minutes. Cazorla may rotate with Ozil but he simply is not as good is he?

If Sanchez players through the middle and Giroud is benched it still leaves Walcott, Podolski. Ox, Campbell and possibly Cazorla competing for 2 wide roles.

Add into this whole equation the faint possibility that Diaby is fit, playing well and remains so. He could well play ahead of Wilshere, Flamini and Arteta one suspects.

Who knows what a fit Daiby may mean?
Who knows what a fit Daiby may mean?

None of this factors in Chambers yet because it remains to be seen where Wenger intends to play him. However the simple fact is there is absolutely NO evidence to suggest from his whole tenure that Wenger will regularly rotate his first choice 11 in the league.

I am not sure I have reached any real conclusion but my research confirmed what I thought I knew and it does not back up the general contention from our fans that we need a big squad too rotate and retain freshness.

It is going to be fascinating to see this season play out but my prediction is that at least 4 of this list of favourites will not start more than 10 league fixtures in 2014/15 – Podolski, Arteta, Wilshere, Flamini, Diaby, Cazorla, Rosicky.

Taking all the above into account is it odd that the fans still seem to want more attacking options when the one area we are perhaps prone to suffering if a key man is injured is in the centre of the defence?

And none of this factors in Shad who may improve the player’s fitness, stamina and lessen injuries!

A specialist in prolonging careers
A specialist in prolonging careers

Food for thought indeed!

Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter –

If you wish to read about Arsenal legend Geordie Armstrong please also check out the website for the new tribute book  available to pre-order now



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  1. You reference league games, so I was just curious how much rotation there was in Cups during those seasons. If our first choice XI are only playing league (and CL) games that might still leave a quality XI to take us deep into both Cups and give the first choice players more rest (as opposed to playing Ozil for 90 minutes against Coventry)

    1. No question Andre. The blog reaches no conclusion just questions how much AW actually does rotate his starting 11

  2. Rotation isn’t giving all of the players equal playing time, it’s just not playing players into the ground.
    To my mind, all these players starting less than 30 games have been rotated. You mention players “only” started 13, 8, 9 games, but that’s like a quarter of all league games. That’s what you’d expect a rotation/squad player to play.

    The Invincibles season is the only one in which you have a point, and let’s be honest, that season was an anomaly in more ways than one. When you have some of the best players in the world and when the league becomes the only thing you’re playing for, you pick them every week.

    And let’s not forget that Wenger DID rotate last season, even with a squad that was stretched by injuries. Sure, Giroud’s playing time dwarfed any other strikers’, but did Sanogo not start games against Liverpool and Bayern Munich? Indeed that rotation wouldn’t even show up by your metric since those were not league games, but they’re still fixtures the club has to negotiate.

    What I’d expect from the coming season is a core of around 15 or 16 players who start 20 or more league games (~50%) and at least 21 who are at least involved on a semi regular basis. That doesn’t mean the team will be switched out every week; they’ll be rotated when the fixtures pile up.

    1. Yes but players like Denilson, Senderos or and older Parlour playing 13 games is not the same as Cazorla, Jack of Ox doing so

  3. Your observations seem to be restricted to starting games?

    How about if 3 players in every game only play 55-75 minutes. Could that not only reduce injuries late on, but also keep ‘squad players’ involved.

    You could also add that to that maybe a couple of line up changes every 3rd game, or for as the fixture dictates?

    Since when has Arsene Wenger looked back for applying his ideal game requirements? He is an innovator and thus more likely to adaot to the modern game, not think about ling up the next set of ‘invincibles’.

    In other words, leave it to Arsene to answer your question during the course of this season,

    1. Gerry in this piece I did indeed stick to starting games but I have done similar blogs on the past as you suggest. Reality is that top internationals don’t wish to be playing 30 lost of 20 minutes.

  4. In the title winning seasons of 2002 & 2004, we had the belief due to our triumph in 1998. Players wanted to play even a bit part role knowing that we had a high chance of trophy success. As this has diminished, we are no longer able to keep a squad happy as they are not winning anything and wasting time.

    I believe depth comes with age, e.g. at CB you would have your two regulars, plus one youngster coming through and one senior player in the twilight of his career.

  5. Great analysis goonerdave66. However last season Wenger rotated the attacking and defensive midfielders once Ramsey was injured. This season, Arteta is not the first choice DM but Diaby, If fit, will become our top choice along with Flamini or Chambers.
    If we go position by position, we can see what options Arsene has now by priority:

    Keepers: Szcesny 1, Ospina 2, Martinez 3
    R Fullbacks: Debuchy 1, Chambers 2, Jenkinson 3, Bellerin 4
    L Fullbacks: Gibbs 1, Monreal 2, Chambers 3
    Centre Backs: Kos 1, Per 1, Vermaelen 2, chambers 3
    Defensive midfielders: Ramsey 1, Diaby 1, Flamini 2, Arteta 3, Chambers 4
    Attacking midfielders: Ozil 1, Wilshere 1, Cazorla 2,the Ox 3, Rosicky 4
    Wingers: Walcott 1, Podolski 2
    Strikers: Sanchez 1, Giroud 2, Campbell 3

    Substitutes: Gnabry,Zelalem,

    Did I forget anyone? We could field almost 3 full and competitive teams from this list…and there aare almost as many youth and academy players waiting in the wings.

    1. Thanks mate and a great response. We will know very shortly but I still think he may keep OG central and play Sanchez wide

      1. Agreed.

        OG will be our main man and will thrive linking up play between Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott and Ramsey.

        A nice holding midfielder would be ideal, I would love another striker, will probably need another CB to be honest but all in all, its promising.

        With a new fitness coach we should see a difference in injuries, I think his pet project should be Diaby. I’d hope we get a psychologist in to build the big game mentality.

        Looking at the other sides, I do think we are in with a massive shout this season.

      2. I too feel OG will stay central with Theo/Sanchez either side. I hope Ox begins campaign there though until Walcott fit

    2. You missed Sanogo, who AW seems to favour.
      I think the answer to the article is a resounding NO! AW does not rotate enough, which is why in recent years the team has faded after the New Year. It ‘s fatigue.
      It ‘ s also the reason for many injuries. He’s got the players to rotate, but I think the problem is his inability/ stubbornness to change lineups to a ‘plan B’ , or different formation when personnel changes are needed.

    3. Remember the last time we had the availability of 3 full teams to choose from?
      It was the emergence of the nickname beginning with “I”. Yes the Invincibles.

      I am glad that we now have depth and i think any more players coming in will be because some are possibly leaving, Vermaelen, and probably Monreal, Arteta if the rumours are to be acknowledged.

      1. We used about 19 players in the 03/04 season so not sure where the 3 teams comes from.

  6. Hey. You should clock up how many minutes in a season each player plays. Youre not adding in substitutions.

    It might give you a better way of expressing your thought in charts.

    But that will involve a lot more effort…

    Good article tho….

  7. Great article.
    Last season when every one was moaning about Ozil’s dismal play, I took to Twitter every day to point out the obvious fact – HE WAS EXHAUSTED. It was shocking & extremely frustrating to see Wenger play him week after week. I made no sense to me. Just because you spent money, does he have to be there every match? This stopped, obviously, after Ozil got injured and was allowed some rest due to the injury. I really do believe we will get more out of these players, especially the big money signings , if their playing time is managed better. (La Liga schedule is very diff from PL)

    Also, look at the injuries Arsenal players sustain. Is it just because the medical staff is lacking, or are the players’ more susceptible to injury due to excessive time on the pitch. All players and bodies are different, and have different limits. Wenger sometimes can be extremely stubborn, and overlooks these limitations. This year the squad has enough depth to allow for good rotation which will not only make us contenders but will make sure the guys don’t look exhausted in second half of the season.

  8. Rotation is not just about injury – it is about keeping players FRESH.

    Perfect is example is the catastrophic loss away to Man City last season, that completely spooked the players and ate away at their self-belief, leading to further and even worse disasters in big games. In that game some of our players were just not fresh and the likes of Mertesacker was simply knackered – anyone could see that. Had Wenger filled out and managed the squad and rotated then we wouldnt bee in that situation at all.

    Another example is Giroud who was just flogged to death, while Wenger insisted on keeping Bendtner as a “backup”, but one who wasnt good enought to play?

    Or Gibbs who is very good, but by no means so good that we had to overuse him, which meant in some big games, he just lack that extra bit of zip that makes the difference…..meanwhile Wenger kept a Spanish international full-back chained to the bench, not even allowed to play the lesser games, unless injury forced his hand. Why?

    This is a critical issue, especially when you look at Vermalen, in the peak of his career, chained to the bench. If he is good enough – play him. And if Vermalen isnt good enough to even play the lesser games, then why is Wenger keeping him on the squad at 80K per week and as the captain, no less. Mind boggling.

    Wenger has to also learn how to insert young players into otherwise full strength lineups more often. One could see how this benefited the development of Gnabry. I think Jenkinson and Akpom could also have been developed more if Wenger had dared to do this a bit more. Sanogo too – it’s all fine and well throwing him in at Bayern, but how about sticking him in more often vs a lesser team, let him get a goal or two that way and build confidence?

    It’s not that that hard.

    What’s also worse for Arsenal is that by constantly coming in 4th place, we have a much longer season than the rest of the top teams. By August, we are asking our players to be at peak fitness in a do-or-die champions league qualifier worth dozens of millions……AND still be at peak fitness almost 9 months later, then back again in less than 2 months break? Was I the only one who thought that for example Podolski blowing out his hamstring to the 9th degree had a lot to do with this?

    Sorry but Wenger has no excuses – he keep on talking about wanting to work with a small squad, but really to get over the hump and put Arsenal in the elite (ie 1st and 2nd place consistently in league and actually compettive in the CL) Wenger needs to for once build a bigger squad and then USE it. If you can pick your first 11 that easily, then frankly you dont have a prayer of winning any of the top competitions, scraping a domestic cup is all we are going to be able to do, unless wenger creates a squad where people on the bench could have played because they were good enough – and the guy on the field knows that if he doesnt perform, using the guy behind him on the bench is a REAL alternative for the manager.

  9. I bliv that the major reason behind our trophyless seasons is not in the quality of our 1st 11 but adequate squad depth or lack of quality replacement. We’ve had players in our squad that will find it hard commanding regular shirt in a mid-table team. Hence, the team fail once 1 or 2 key players miss out injured. Can we compare our 2nd 11 in the past 9yrs to those of united, Chelsea and city league winning teams? Liverpool last season is a pointer to the fact that u need more than a good 1st 11 to win the league. We’ve not been lucky with injuries, so players will get their chances. Wenger obviously make late substitution, which also can be linked to lack of trust in the quality of his bench or a game changer. Most people believed we would end up where we did last season due to our squad depth, except for some fans, but we all know where we ended. I bliv we’ll be seeing some healthy competition in the MF and the attack. Cazorla, Wilshire and Ox will start many games due to their ability to play in more than 1 position. Rosicky, Montreal, Campbel, Sanogo and Podolski should be happy for any start they get. No doubt without injuries, Wenger will need to find how he can satisfy his players but it is a good problem to have after all.

  10. Yes we all know AW is reluctant to change settled starting 11 when all fit and in form. And rightly so because as they say why fix somehtjing which is not broken? –But when not in form: we’ve seen with Szescney and Fabianski couple of seasons ago that he will make changes.
    -Fatigue: wilshere after his breakthrough season, Ramsey last season, and Ozil to some extent after not having winter break were heavily suffering from too many games. We can hope AW might have learnt.
    -Few of the players not getting enough games in your date includes Diaby and Rosicky and we all know injuries to those players is the big reason rather than AW’s unwillingness to rotate. As we know Rosicky was surprisongly fit most of the last season, hence got fair amount of games last season, specially in FA cup and substituted a lot in PL as well.
    -Quality in depth: Not to rotate Sagna withh Eboue, Chamakh/Bendtner with RVP is more about being reluctant to rotate quality over another physical presence. As mentioned above with Rosickt, even Diaby, Wenger DO rotates them when fit.

    I do hope these are the cases and Wenger will use the squad to its fullest.

  11. The fact is we do not only play in the league! We are challenging in 4 competitions so rotation is certainly key when you consider the amount of games we have to play!
    Do you really want us to lose Ramsey or any other important “starting 11” player midway through the season due to playing every 3 days with no rest? Because that is exactly the reason we lost Ramsey last season and Wenger himself admitted he was overplayed!

    Therefore I think, when you want to talk about rotation, you have to take into account all competitions we are in because if we only played in the league we wouldnt have to worry about rotation!!

    So to me this analysis is somehow quite irrelevant when discussing rotation.

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