Strength in depth is being considered as one of the most important factors for being successful in modern football. A season that can see top teams play close to 60 games automatically challenges the energy reserves and fitness levels of the whole squad. Whilst all teams rely on their key players to be fit all season long or at least for the major part, attributes of the squad players often make the difference between champions and close contenders.
In the following analysis, I have taken the first team squads as mentioned on the websites of the top 4 clubs. Arsenal have listed 29 players and Man U, Chelsea and Liverpool have 36, 25 and 35 respectively. Both United and Liverpool have listed a large number of youngsters and it’s almost certain that Arsenal and Chelsea can easily show larger numbers by including the youngsters. But the core is made up of 25 or so players of each squad.
The first choice keepers are all excellent. There is no real statistic that tells us which of these keepers is the best. But I would be happy to have any one of these in goal if I were the manager.
Almunia has faced a lot of criticism and some people believe that we need a better goal keeper. Have these people seen the first goal in the CL final last season? Van der Saar was beaten at the near post by a toe poke. One can argue that Van der Saar, single handedly, spilled the Champions League trophy!
Has anyone seen how Cech jumped over the ball when Bent scored against Chelsea this season? Does anyone remember how the Czech No. 1 flapped at thin air to allow Gallas to score the winner? Does anyone remember his performance against Turkey?
I can identify tons of mistakes made by each of these keepers that have cost their sides a lot of points and big games. My guess is we find more problems with Almunia because of two reasons. Firstly, the 10 men in front of him have been weaker defensively, which means he always has to do more than his counterparts. We also tend to follow Arsenal games more closely and scrutinize every mistake in great detail. Maybe the mistakes of our players tend to linger in our memory whilst those of others fade away.
Unless anyone can come up with conclusive proof that someone else would do better than Almunia, we really need to get behind him. As it is, the people in front of him often let him down.
It’s more interesting to look into the second and third choice keepers.
From an experience point of view there doesn’t seem to be much to separate these players. I don’t know why some fans are unhappy with Fabianski as the second choice keeper. Is he any worse than his counterparts?
Manone, clearly, is the odd one out. I am not sure how important the third choice keeper really is. My guess is that Wenger is gambling on the fact that he will rarely be called into action. However, with Fabianski currently injured, a repeat of the horrific Diouf like tackle could easily have us in trouble. What are the odds of that happening while Fabianski is out? I am also wondering whether the boss will take someone on loan for a short period if such a mishap were to occur. Am I right in believing that loan deals can be done even after the transfer deadline has passed?
Song has been left out of this list as I am hoping that he will be allowed to blossom in his present role and not thrust into the back four on a regular basis.
Last year some people made a big hue and cry over the lack of height in the center of our defence. Is height really a big deal? I can’t believe a couple of inches can make such a difference. Just compare the aerial presence of Gallas and Vermaelen. Even without a significant difference in height, Vermaelen is head and shoulders above Gallas. It is more a question of technique and the ability to read the flight of the ball and attack it.
We conceded 37 goals in the league last season as compared to 24, 27 and 24 by United, Liverpool and Chelsea respectively. Even Fulham conceded less than us. That clearly shows we have a problem with our defence. But can it be nailed down to one or two people or is it more complicated than that?
Looking at the names above I don’t see how it can be narrowed down to one or two players. Our full backs are the best in the league. The two back up players have done equally well when called upon. So we can’t throw any blame there.
This brings the case down to the central defenders. It has been an area of concern for so many fans. If I got a dollar for every time someone has said or written we need to sign a central defender I would have enough to buy out both Usmanov and Kroenke and buy us another world class defender with the remaining change. There are times when I dream of having enough money to do exactly that but always wake up when Wenger says he doesn’t need the money. Anyway let’s not get into that.
There seems to be a unanimous opinion that Vermaelen has made an excellent start. Unfortunately, it doesn’t add to the depth of the squad due to the departure of Toure. With the injury to Djourou we are already thin. Silvestre and Senderos can make a heart patient out of anyone. It’s not that they are very bad players. Personally, I don’t think the old Frenchman is any worse than Brown or Kyrgiakos. Same goes for Big Phil. Liverpool have lived without Agger for a long time, so why can’t we live without Djourou?
The key to me seems to be in the style of play. Our style is far too open and leaves our defence much more exposed than any of the other top sides. My hunch is that the new formation is an attempt to provide a better shield to the defence. Ask yourself this question – how many times has our defence been opened up in the games so far?
Yes, we have conceded 5 goals in 5 games. But have any of those goals been created by the opposition opening us up. Some might say that the Rooney dive was the time when we were opened up. But we haven’t looked as shaky and vulnerable as last year, have we? Can we expect consistency? That is a very pertinent question the answer to which might define our season.
The point here is that the new formation seems to be giving our defence better protection. We have seen some bad mistakes but if the defending as a team continues to improve chances are that the mistakes at the back can be cut out. We might even survive a few games playing with an unthinkable S&S combination at the center of defence.
The bottom line is that all teams have weaknesses when you go exploring the depth. I am not very happy that we have kept Senderos and not signed a new player instead. All summer I was hoping we will get someone like Bassong in. I just can’t believe the giant Swiss will be in a mental state to come in and perform on a regular basis. Bit cheesy I guess.
Having said that, I can’t understand how anyone can call our present state a disaster. People claim that an injury to Gallas or Vermaelen will leave us exposed. Same goes for Almunia. By that logic, an injury to Gerrard or Torres could wreck Liverpool. An injury to Rooney could mean a disaster for United. Ultimately, it’s not down to the individuals. If there is a weak player in one position the others just have to raise their game. That is a true test of team spirit and the desire to win. Arsene talks a lot about it. Now can we see that on the field of play?
I am also beginning to see why Le Boss often says that buying is not always the solution. More in the second part with the midfield and attack.