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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Food for thought indeed!
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