To play or not to play: a closer look at Arsenal’s rotation policy.
Let me begin by saying that this article will not bring to light any groundbreaking information regarding Arsenal’s current rotation policy, but simply aims to provide the basis for further discussion today.
Aside from Arsene’s constant touchline zipper dilemmas, there has been much debate about a larger predicament on hand at Arsenal; Arsene’s rotation policy or lack there of.
Is it a matter of Arsene not having faith in his substitutes? Is Arsene secretly aware of the lack of depth in our squad? Or is it a concern that his substitutes are not in form and need a run of games in order to produce? Is he worried that the team will lose momentum and chemistry if the starting line-up is altered?
Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: Arsenal’s starters are bearing the full brunt of Arsene’s decision to not rotate players often enough, and this is leaving our squad with countless injuries. This article will examine the mentality and considerations which Arsene may be using in regards to his rotation policy.
At first glance of Arsenal’s full squad, there is a great degree of concern over our lack of depth. There is a capable contingent of starters that fans are comfortable with, but the ever-present fear of injuries plagues the brittle confidence they have in some of Arsenal’s injury-prone players. Players like Diaby, Gibbs and Arteta are fantastic for Arsenal when healthy, but it seems that every year they fall victim to recurring injuries that cut their seasons short.
Despite that, I can see why Arsene believes there is depth at almost every position (aside from LB). After his most recent comments on squad depth, he believes in having two players for every position in the line-up. In goal and on defense, Mannone, Koscielny and Jenkinson have all proved that they can provide adequate cover if called upon. Mannone is not the ideal back-up keeper, but was good enough to help Arsenal secure victories earlier in the year.
The midfield is the position with the greatest depth and yet the greatest concern. The long and distinguished injury histories of Diaby and Rosicky have been well documented, while Ramsey and Frimpong have dealt with serious blows early on in their careers; failing to find the same form they had pre-injury. Coquelin is still inconsistent and finding it difficult to discover good form, likely due to a lack of playing time.
Arsene has seemingly lost all faith in Arshavin and has opted to just run out the remainder of his contract. Even when given playing time, Arshavin is often played out of position on the LW where his lack of pace and work rate are exposed. The wing is the only position that sees regular rotation, as Gervinho and Chamberlain are often rotated with Podolski and Theo (occasionally with Giroud rotating out and Gervinho or Podolski playing up top; but it will likely be Theo rotating with him, from now on).
So then, with all the aforementioned substitute players, why do they rarely get a start in the first team?
Why not play Rosicky when our offense is finding it difficult to break down the opposition’s defense? Why not play Coquelin in games that Arteta has clearly come out sluggish and is looking tired, after starting numerous games in a row?
Unfortunately, this is a question that I cannot answer without being in the Arsenal coaching staff. There could be personal disagreements between the player and the coaching staff, Arsene may have lost faith in their abilities (includes not believing in their current form) or maybe Arsene wants his starters to maintain their form and fears a loss of momentum if he changes the line-up too often.
If the latter two reasons are to blame for Arsene’s lack of rotation, then there are a few simple solutions. In respect to lost faith in his substitute player’s abilities, he simply has to lose any emotional attachment he may have with them and replace them with more capable players. It’s unacceptable for a top club to be carrying dead weight on its roster and to not sell a player who never plays because the bid did not meet Arsene’s valuation of the player.
However, it’s a different matter altogether if the player refuses to leave or no clubs have inquired about them. The allure of potential resonates in Arsene’s evaluation of his players, but some of these players would be better off on loan; gaining the necessary starting minutes for their development. Their growth will only go so far if they are only exposed to training sessions, spot starts and substitute appearances. In addition, it’s very difficult for a substitute to play one game every three weeks since they are lacking game experience/form, confidence that there is room to make mistakes, and the mental concentration needed to see through an entire match.
Clearly, the lack of a current rotation policy has not helped us find consistency from game to game and has only resulted in fatigue and injuries. This begs the question of whether Arsene’s belief that our starters need more playing time to gel as a unit, and gain familiarity with one another, is accurate.
Every time he incorrectly chooses to start a substitute, the decision is scrutinized and fans blame his tactics. However, when he elects to stick with the same starters in several consecutive games, fans call for him to rotate players more often.
Understandably, fans’ patience with Arsene’s decisions has grown thin after 8 years without silverware. Arsene is a professional who has stated on numerous occasions that he is not bothered by what the media and fans think about the choices he makes, and no coach would ever allow the masses to dictate their decisions.
With that said, I would like the rotation decision to lie somewhere between the two extremes and for Arsene to find the right balance between his starters and substitutes. The ideal starting line-up should always play against the top clubs and in important cup matches, while more squad players should start against mid to lower table teams. If Arsenal has a run of tough fixtures, Arsene would do well to start a few of his squad players, in addition to the current group of favoured starters. Such a simple rotation philosophy would help ease the burden on the starting group and keep them fresh, along with possibly taking preventative measures on injuries due to being overplayed. Non-starters cannot play confidently when they are in constant fear of losing their place in the next match.
We’ve already seen at first hand what a lack of first-team opportunities can have on players such as Giroud, Coquelin, Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho. If they were given a decent run of games, each one could perform consistently well. However, they generally have all failed to contribute adequately when only given a start every 5 or 6 matches.
Fast forward to our last match in the FA Cup vs. Brighton, and we saw Arsene fielding plenty of his non-starting squad players.
It was certainly a significant change in tactics from the majority of the season, and it was an encouraging sign that perhaps injuries played a factor in the lack of rotation all along. In addition, Arsene may have fielded his starters so often because he knew we needed to catch up with the competition, after an accumulation of poor performances earlier in the season.
Transitioning new players into a squad is never a simple task, and Arsene has done a commendable job of rotating the CBs and CFs/Wings. The area that needs greater focus for rotation going forward is the midfield. Now that the team is more established and that players are returning to full health from injuries, I am confident that we will continue to see good rotation from Arsene.
To conclude, if Arsene is truly cognizant of the lack of squad depth, but is simply refusing to admit it and electing to play his starters into the ground to compensate, then there’s a bigger issue at hand.
Firstly, he is jeopardizing the long-term careers of his starters by making them more susceptible to injury.
Secondly, he’s prioritizing his own ego above the greater good of the team instead of admitting he has made mistakes in his purchases during the transfer windows.
However, I truly believe that everything Arsene does for Arsenal is in the best interests of the club, and am just hoping for more frequent rotation to give our squad players a fair opportunity to prove their worth and to avoid an accumulation of injuries.
What do you Gooners think about Arsene’s rotation policy? What do you think is the cause of the lack of rotation, and what should be done to resolve this issue?
Written By: The Gooner