The dilemma of squad size: rich tactical and rotation options vs. access to playing minutes.
This post is not about statistics, but will involve some – very basic – calculation.
Don’t worry if you don’t like playing with numbers, that will not be the heart of it.
In this article I would like to discuss how the minutes on the pitch could contribute to the development of the players, and analyse the actual figures from last season.
For this purpose I will consider competitive games only, so club friendlies and fitness checking PL2 games will be excluded.
How many – competitive – games are there in an average Arsenal season?
As a rule of thumb, I will calculate with 50, but every year we manage to compete in Europe the figures are 48-56.
In fact it was 54 last season, but we had an exceptional run-in the FA Cup.
So what is granted?
38 EPL games
6+ UCL/UEL games (we had 8 last season as after the 6 group stage games we lost against Olympiakos in the first round of the knockout phase)
1+ League Cup games (we had 2 last season)
1+ FA Cup games (we had 6 last season as we won the tournament)
Charity Shield (we had zero last, but had 1 this season, and while it is friendly, I consider it competitive because of the trophy and the prestige)
So, with the guaranteed 38 Premier League games and 6 group matches in Europe, the 50 games is a safe bet.
In every game there are 11 players on a side. A single footballer plays 90 minutes, thus the whole team plays 990 (11*90).
In the season there are 50*990=49500 minutes. Let’s round it up to 50k taking extra time and stoppage time into account as well.
With the tools of rotation and substitution the manager divides this amount among the players. With a squad size of 25 this equals 2000 minutes of playing time on average.
Why do players need playing minutes?
Mostly to gain experience and for their skill and tactical development, as well as morale (mental hygiene), as the lads obviously like to play football and give their best.
They obviously want to increase their market value as well as negotiation power in a future contract extension; they can also achieve it only by playing many – excellent – games.
Furthermore, they want to call the attention of the public and the national team’s manager to their abilities.
When they play a lot on a consistently high level, they also get access to lucrative sponsorship deals, advertisements, etc.
If it was up to them, they would play as much as possible, but for fitness, tactical, rotational, stamina and other reasons they cannot always start and cannot always remain on the pitch until the final whistle.
We have to also take into consideration that most of these guys are close friends to each other. If more of them are dissatisfied due to his lack of playing time it not only decreases the individual’s morale, but in some extent reduces the team mood as well.
How to read the actual playing minutes?
Well, I have never played football on the highest level, so the explanations above are the mix of my amateur experience, opinions of sporting and medical experts and some common sense. But don’t hesitate to challenge them if you disagree. However for simplification purposes I will not differentiate according to age, assuming that the bodies of 19, 25 and 32 year-old players are equally capable of dealing with the workload.
But I by no means recommend any athlete to play 4500 minutes (50 games) a season; in fact my recommendation is in the 2000-3000 range. That should be handled easily in all relevant ages.
0-1000 minutes: Unless there is a proper justification of long or recurring injuries this is a major management failure. The development of the player is seriously hindered, and reduces the morale big time. Should be avoided.
1000-1500 minutes: Not desirable. Not much improvement there, probably no deterioration either, still a missed opportunity for both the player and the club. This could be alright in the first season of a youngster with the first team as well as last season of a senior player before retirement.
1500-2000 minutes: This is the reality of a squad player. 18-20 full games of the 50+ or around 8-10 starts and 15-20 substitute appearances. The player would surely demand more, but his excess motivation could provide healthy competition to the position, so this is not a manager’s failure by any means.
2000-2500 minutes: Needs no justification, as the athlete played about 50% of the available minutes. This provides proper development, yet still not poses a fitness threat. In this rage a player is respected, but not indispensable. If the majority of the players of the team falls to this range then you have a beautifully balanced squad and a talented professional coach on top of that as well.
2500-3000 minutes: That would be my preferred range. Albeit these extra minutes don’t contribute to the individual development any further, but the enjoyment of playing a lot of games and the increase of jersey sales and interviews make this interval slightly better than the previous.
3000-3500: Sign of a slight overuse of the player. Could be due to the lack of proper alternatives, or the player might be competing for a record. Maybe from leadership purposes must the player be on the pitch so often. I would try to avoid it, but if a couple of players fall into this range that is not a catastrophe either.
3500-4000: This is unhealthy. A significant injury risk for outfield players, that could also lead to mental overload or even burnout. Could also happen because of a long qualification season, but otherwise there should be no excuses. Or maybe the squad is too thin and all alternatives are injured.
4000-4500 minutes: Since the league games amount to 3420 minutes only, this range often shows a megalomaniac attitude, where the player wants to play every minute in every competition (Pickford, McGregor, ter Stegen, Moutinho.
4500+ minutes: Hell no! (Coady, Maguire, Patricio)
Let’s see, how are players “performed” in this department in the 2019/2020 season!
Yes, it was a crazy year, but the coronavirus only impacted the crowd and the schedule, but not the minutes (except for the last stages of the UCL/UEL).
This is a big kudos to Arteta (but maybe Leno’s injury played some part here). Leno competed 2860 minutes, while Martinez also had the opportunity to shine for 2030. They both improved, and had nice runs. Well done. (The only exception to the above rules is the #3 goalkeeper, as he should be somebody who is patient, not ambitious, yet reliable, because basically he is the contingency to the back-up plan. Macey played 720 minutes – of limited competitiveness – and sat on the bench 13 times. Furthermore he made valuable contributions to our trainings.) We are very well equipped and perfectly managed in the goalkeeper department.
Well, Luiz played 3640 minutes which is more than my liking – and has nothing to do with his personality, defensive or leadership skills. Sokratis played 2320 minutes, majority of it in the first half of the season (where he was overused), but the handful of minutes since mid-March understandably made him disappointed. Mustafi had a similar 2250 minutes, but more evenly distributed throughout the season. That’s a perfect run considering his late injury, and he needs the minutes more for consistency than for skill development anyway. Chambers’ 1380 minutes looks too few, but he had a good start to the season followed by a serious and long injury. This has nothing to do with the manager. That excuse doesn’t apply to Rob Holding, as his 1280 competitive minutes cannot be explained by injuries. He was available in the majority of the season. I am disappointed on his behalf (mostly in Emery and Ljungberg). Finally, Mari played only 200 minutes, but he joined in January and suffered a long injury too. If 500-800 minutes from David would have ended up in Rob, then the overall picture would have looked better, but it is not too bad at all, and Luiz is the leader of our defense anyway.
Full and wingbacks
Tierney played 1710 minutes, but came injured and suffered another long injury. He progressed alright, and if he manages to get 2800 minutes under his belt this year that would be a major improvement to him and the club as well. To my surprise Kolasinac played 2040 minutes this season, so there is no need to complain. Bellerin played 1800 minutes only, but whenever he was fit, he started, so I don’t see any flaw here either. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the other senior of the group with his 2030 minutes. He was always fit and played in many positions, but couldn’t apply much competitive pressure on those who were ahead of him in the pecking order. (That can change in the next season in both directions.) Cedric Soares played 250 minutes in his half season with us, but he (similarly to Kieran) had a couple of nasty injuries, so his minutes are justified, especially as he played additional 1510 minutes for Southampton earlier this season.
Lucas Torreira played 2040 minutes. And apart from his injury he was properly rotated in the squad. His disappointment has probably little to do with his time on the pitch and more of the roles and the quality of his play. I hope he stays though. Xhaka was the other player to get above 3k (in fact 3430), but he provided stability to our engine. The coaches made experiments, but at the end of the day without Granit we simply suffered. Guendouzi played a healthy 2380 minutes throughout the season, but not equally distributed. According to Transfermarket he suffered an Achilles tendon injury after the Brighton, which sounds bullshit to me, but who am I to challenge the portal? Anyway, Matteo is an undoubtedly talented young player, but he is not yet the saviour of Arsenal’s midfield. Him grabbing Maupay by the throat is a big whoGives’aSh*t, but his attitude and discipline could be a liability. Ceballos had 2340 minutes under his belt, which is a good figure considering he was out for 2 months with a torn muscle. He became an important part of Arsenal, I hope he returns. Joe Willock played 1860 minutes, but was more effective as a super-sub than as a starter. That’s not bad for a 20 years old, however he couldn’t convince Aidy Boothroyd to select him for England U21. Finally Ozil. He played 1810 minutes which is more than I remember, still about half of how much someone is supposed to play of his calibre. But that is a different story, we debated about it in this blog a few times already.
With 2700 minutes young Bukayo Saka is one of the winners of this season. He often played at left (wing)back, but managed to grab the opportunity with both hands there as well. He was talented in the first place, but he progressed the most in a year among our players. A similar trajectory was expected from Martinelli, but he suffered an unfortunate injury limiting his playing minutes to 1460. This is still not bad for a 18-year old in his debut year in the first team, but with some luck it could have been a lot more. And to make it worse he loses a few months in this season as well… Nicolas Pepe didn’t take the Premier League by storm, but his 2720 minutes and 18 goal contributions are not bad for a debut season even for a record signing. Similarly to Tierney, I expect more of him this season, hoping that he will prove that he has a seat among the very best. The other victim of the pecking order as well as head coaching mismanagement (besides Holding) is Nelson with his 1040 competitive minutes. The arrival of Willian and the prospect of Coutinho don’t look promising for him either. And unlike the 2.5 years older AMN, Reiss has (had?) a real chance to become one of the finest players in his position.
While Aubameyang mostly played on the left wing I list him here. Our captain racked the most minutes under his belt (3725), I assume partly due to his leadership qualities and partly because he wanted to retain the Golden Boot – as well as our most clinical striker. His 36 PL games (was suspended for the other 2) and his FA Cup appearances are perfectly justified, but his involvement in 6 EL games was a bit too much to my liking. Lacazette’s 2580 minutes fall into the perfect interval, and albeit his 12 goals seem a largely inferior return to Auba’s 29, if we take the net goal contributions into account (goals + assists – penalties) then his record of a net goal contribution every 136 minutes is quite close to PEA’s 128 minute figure. Eddie’s 1510 minutes are acceptable for a youngster playing his first (half) season with the senior team, but could have been a lot more if his loan spell in Leeds would have been more efficient. He managed to play more in the PL and the FA Cup than in the Championship and the Carabao, which is quite a performance from a 20-year-old. His development is fortunately still fast.
Coming back to the title dilemma
Shall we have a large squad with rich tactical and rotation options, or a skeleton crew to maximize individual development through a high volume of playing minutes?
There is no correct answer; this is not science, rather a matter of values and philosophy. But let’s not forget that when we divided the 50.000 minutes by a hypothetical squad size of 25, the 2000 minutes result was the average value; and remember that according to yours truly the ideal threshold of playing minutes to maximize experience and skill development is between 2000 and 3000. As you could guess from my past comments as well as the paragraphs above I am an advocate of youth development, thus in favour of a smaller squad – aiming for 58 games to increase the average playing minutes of 24 footballers (3 GK + 5 CB + 4 FB/WB + 6 DM/CM + 4 W + 2 ST) to 2400. Because currently Arsenal has 30 players, which reduces the fraction (the expected average) to less than 1700 minutes. And while the club is trying to offload a few players, simultaneously working hard on signing new guys, so this 30-figure is a realistic squad size after the transfer window closes. Which is 20% more than my preference, but don’t hesitate to challenge or criticize my stance.
As long as we don’t have the funds like Chelsea to spend 150M on new players every transfer window, I would go for maximizing individual development – the best XI and the secondary team players equally. How about you?
39 thoughts on “Mikel Arteta’s Biggest Dilemma”
Cheers PB for a mammoth post, and once again, you have argued the issue really well. My preference is a squad around 23-15 players with two players for every position and a few youngsters who get an opportunity to push on. I would like the two players for every position to be almost equally good and therefore rotate regularly and thus getting enough minutes to play.
If your 15 is 25, then we are in full agreement. 🙂
August 31, 2020 at 10:55
Kev, the cortex gets usually this stimulated after the attention of a fine woman…
Spoken like only a Dutchman can…. 😄
It is, PB, and we are in agreement. Key for me is to have good back up in the spine:
Leno – Martinez = sorted
Luiz – Mari = probably sorted
XhakA – Torreira = not ideal
Willian – Saka/Ceballos? = sorted
Auba – Laca/Pepe = not ideal
For the spine I am looking for maturity, quality and leadership: men who stand up when the going gets tough.
Haha Kev, but was I right?
Amazing post, pb, really:
Just a few words to push my “hale end” agenda
I have nothing against Macey, of course, but I think the 3rd keeper should be a younger lad
Okonkwo’d be perfect imo – even though in order to write this, i’ve relied entirely on jeorge bird’s assessment of the lad, who has just come back to colney after a mysterious reason ruled him out for the whole 2019-2020 season. Every time i saw one of our youngsters play AFTER reading jeorge’s assessment of him, I thought to myself this assessment was the finished product, not to be tampered with.
Let’s keep in mind that more and more keepers now earn a berth in top teams’ starting XIs (donnarumma is the best-known example, meret is another one in Italy, lafont is a very interesting prospect in france) before they’re 20, which has probably something to do with the improvement in keeper-coaching, so that we wouldn’t take any risk in promoting the boy
This study of yours is also the reason why I think this is not the right moment for us to buy; our first-choice senior squad with will make it to to one of the 4 CL spots under our new headcoach (how can we not be confident about that, now?), so that a very young side (with saliba (no risk with the first name, this time)/joe/reiss/eddie/emil/martinelli …) could be trusted with the europa-carabao-fa first rounds (12 games, 1080 minutes) … to which we could add the minutes the’re bound to get in the PL
Joe, Reiss, Emil, in particular need such a run of 95-minute games to “come of age” (as opposed to Bukayo, who was firing on all cylinders, as soon as he stepped onto the frankfurt pitch).
But as you pointed out, we signed Willian … ok, this is the last time I’ve alluded to that, promise – he seems to be a very likeable guy, is a very good player and … well he’s one of us, now
Brilliant post PB, Frankly I’m a statistics nut but I’ve never given any thought to time played, but what you have written must have taken a lot of thoughtful research and makes a lot of sense.
I tend to write in pigeon bullet points whereas you write with a flow that retains ones interest.
I’m really excited about our potential for 2020/21 as it feels like we are starting from a more stable position, with a solid group of youngsters, many of whom are already bedding into the EPL then we have a strong group of senior players supplemented by potentially (that word again) high quality additions. Then of course we have a young (38) gifted manager who has managed to turn a lot of seemingly mid- stream players into first team players plus keeping trouble makers away from the first team squad. It’s pretty impressive that he has won two trophy’s in his first eight months in charge.
This is a write up the every Arsenal supporter will enjoy reading.
Mkhi off the books now. Contract terminated, and he has joined Roma permanently now. What a waste of money that was.
Dani coming back to Arsenal on loan as per leading sky sports reporter Fabrizio Romano!!!
Ornstein confirms that Gabriel has signed for Arsenal.
Hi Le Gall,
i share your Hale End agenda.
While Macey is also an academy product (the giant is with us for 7 years now), but you have a point that as the 3rd choice goalkeeper is a virtual position it might very well be fulfilled by a talented teenager. As long as he can focus on the PL2, because minutes might be more important than training with the first team – but hopefully these are not conflicting priorities.
Okonkwo is indeed a raw talent. He is big and have great reflexes, and has youth capt from U16, U17 and U18 levels as well. Karl Hein is also an interesting prospect; similarly tall, good with decision making and playing from the back, has 19 junior caps (as well as being part of the senior squad this interlull), but prone to make unforced mistakes. I’m looking forward to the competition between them.
TA, the Mkhi story is really sad.
3 year ago we had the second-third best player of the world – at least I rated Sanchez at least as high as Hazard or de Bruyne back then, only slightly below C. Ronaldo. In Wenger’s last year we managed to debase him, then swap for a player who we not only giving away for free 2.5 years later, but we are actually happy to do so.
That’s probably the biggest shame of Arsenal’s recent years – which isn’t unrelated to the CL-EL downhill either…
I agree that Sanchez was up there with the best for his first three seasons with us. A combination of disillusionment and his legs going meant his moving on was good for both parties. May I start a conversation about Auba? Outstanding a goal scorer as he is (tho’ the miss against Olympiakos and the missed pen against Spurs still rankles), his pace and the buoyant character and work ethic he brings to the club are huge assets, but where would you place him in a list of left sided attacking footballers who have played in recent years for the club? I’d offer the following…
25 player squad aged 21 or over broken down to 17 foreign and 8 English developed.
Of that 25 : Martinelli, Saka, Saliba, Nelson, Willock, and Guendouzi lay outside of the 25 man squad through age but are still very much part of it.
Of the 17 I expect : Leno, Soares, Tierney, Xhaka, Mustafi, Willian, Aubameyang, Pepe, Gabriel, Mari, Luiz, Ozil, Elneny, Ceballos, Lacazette or AN Other to be in the 25.
Of the 8 Anglos I expect : Bellerin, Martinez, Chambers, Maitland Niles, Nketiah and Macey to be in the 25.
Holding will go on loan, Kolasinac will go on loan, Sokratis will leave, Torrieira will leave.
Smith Rowe and John Jules will be on the fringe but involved.
So that looks like a squad of around 28/29 souls, which should be enough to make us competitive in the 4 major competitions we’re involved in.
agreed, kev, it could come down to (in mick’s 3-4-3)
GK martinez, leno, okonkwo
RCB: mustafi, chambers, holding, saliba
LCB: tierney, mari
RB (WB): bellerin, soares
RDM/BtBM: ceballos, willock, elneny
LB (WB): saka, mniles
RW: pépé, willian, nelson
CF: lacazette, nketiah
LW: aubameyang, martinelli, smithrowe (?)
that’s 25; i’m not sure where emil fits in that system, i think he’s a true playmaker/”centerfield”
i don’t think the gabriel lad is a must-buy, but he wouldn’t hurt; nor would aouar – who’s a genuine world-class player imo, and i think mick is the perfect coach he needs at this point in his career
that’d be 27 – and i still wish we could keep balogun
like you, kev, i think torreira/big sok/kola will go, and i didn’t take matteo/mesut into account because at this point i don’t see how things could get better between them and the manager
as for stuart’s question, i’d be very tempted to bring auba up to n°2 …
… to put them right!!!!!
PB and Stuart, high praise for Alexis. Individually he was good and could make the difference on the day, but I didnt see him as a team player. He took from Giroud and Ozil but seldom gave back, especially to the Frenchman. I never liked that about him. He was found out at Manure where he withered away quickly. So I am not sure I would put him anywhere near the greats of Arsenal, let alone the world.
I think if Auba signs he will reach that 100-goals mark our friend GN5 has been setting all our players in record time. TH14 is a THOF Saint but Auba could come close in the next four years.
LeG, I see Mari mostly as a central CB (in a 3 at the back) and Gabriel as cover/competition for Tierney – who I also see more as a wingback going forward.
Stuart, I see Henry as a central striker, as he didn’t really work well with other strikers like Kanu or van Persie, and sqeezed attackers like Bergkamp or Wiltord to the wing or the secondary striker position.
So my all time (well, obviously “my time”, so Cliff Bastin and George Armstrong excluded) TOP 12 Arsenal winger / AM list looks like this:
I hope in a few years we can add new names to the list like Saka, Pepe, Martinelli and Nelson.
I’ve just heard on the Arsenal Vision podcast that William Saliba being registered at 18 when we signed him means that he meets the criteria at 21 of being home produced which is a right result.
Wow no Gervinho in your top-10, PB?! 😳
Thanks for keeping us informed, Kev. I cannot wait to see more of young Saliba! 🙂
A player can be positioned on the wing but that does not make them a proper winger imho. I dont think we had many proper wingers in the last 25 years or so. Best winger in a traditional sense was probably Marc Overmars, but Thierry could also do the proper wing-play and same goes for Arshavin, and then there was Gervinho who could skin a defender without having to be passed the ball behind the defenders. A proper winger usually has more assists than goals (2:1) and most come from the wings of course. A proper winger has a good cross, is fast and can be launched from midfield or defence, can take on defenders and skin them with the ball at their feet, will find fellow attackers and attacking midfielders in the box with precision and thus produces many assists and score double figure PL goals in a season.
Theo started of well but did lack that ability to take on defenders with the ball at his feet. So yeah for me it is: Overmars, Thierry, Freddie, Pires, Alexis, Reyes, Arshavin, Gervinho, Auba Van Persie, Walcott. Probably in that sort of order.
Gabriel is a Gunner, confirmed on Arsenal.com
Great news about Gabriel.
If you go to Arsenal.com there’s a 7 minute video with Luiz, Willan and Gabriel.
Lol Gervinho mentioned by T. You know, I thought he was so talented. I personally always thought Hazard was quite overrated, his production numbers were not so great for Chelsea to deserve the worship he received from the media, and dribble stats can be so overvalued. I predicted he’d flop at Madrid, but I’m not sure if he’s had injury issues there…… When we chose Gervinho, I was backing Arsene all the way. Gervinho was one of those players who, with 3 options on the ball, would always choose the worst, or somehow mess up the chance to score himself. I think he felt pressure playing for Arsenal and couldn’t handle the demands of the fans.
Total, I’d be pretty stunned and disappointed if Gabriel isn’t worked in as the regular left sided CB eventually, otherwise, why spend the money? Tierney is a fantastic all around player, and has been filling in, out of position, on the left of the back three…. If Gabriel can make that position his own he greatly improves the team in 2 ways…. the other by freeing up Tieney as the wingback or marauding LB that he is. The best in the league in my estimation. I don’t care even about Liverpool’s great fullbacks. Funny thing is, and I’m ashamed to admit, I was sceptical about buying him lol. Fast becoming my favorite gunner. I always tell you, I love to be proven wrong by our guys.
If we slip the bonds of “recent times” we can add George Armstrong to the list, and he was a proper winger. He was Arsenals player of the year the first season I started supporting (1970). The following season he played every game, we won the double and it is estimated that Geordie assisted more than half the seasons goals including the cross for a young Ray Kennedy to win the league at WHL.
Played 621 times for Arsenal, a record only bettered by David O’Leary and Tony Adams. Bless him, he only reached 56, but has a training pitch at London Colney named after him.
The pragmatic GG gave us a couple of great wingers in Anders Limpar and Brian Marwood.
We have history…
4-3 to the arsenal, against qpr at colney
rumour has it laca-smithrowe-johnjules and … auba on the scoresheet
dani’s back, gabe2 (1 is martinelli) has signed, meaning we’re getting closer to ta’s samba arsenal
not a bad day to be an arsenal fan
i could even renew my membership!! (had been trying to, unsuccessfully so, for quite some time)
Spot on re Gervinho’s nervousness, J. With the right coaching he could have been such a player. I still really liked the way he glided past players. A very raw talent.
J, Gabriel will strengthen us further on the left side… I may write a quick post about it.
I heard great things about George A, Stuart. There are some bloggers on here who can share directly in your admiration of him.
Brarsenal lalalalalala lalalalalalala la laaah la laah, Brarsenal.. 🙂
Still need to respond to this fantastic article, but need to have some time to think out a thoughtful response.
Athletic reporting that Bellerin could be off to PSG soon, as the clubs have been in negotiations since last week and the player is open to a move. Initial offer was 25 mil plus 5 mil in add-ons, but Arsenal were asking for closer to 40 mil, Ornstein says clubs could likely end up meeting somewhere in the middle.
That may explain why AMN may be staying after all.
I’m with Jnyc on Gervinho as well as Tierney.
Furthermore I think our best XI with 4 attackers looks like this:
Interesting fact I: If we would like to incorporate Ceballos or Partey we either have give up the back 3 or leave out one from the attacking diamond.
Interesting fact II: As you can see, there is no Saka in the line-up. He is a great prospect and was selected as the 3rd best player of the season by Adrian Clarke, but who would you swap him with? (If Saka plays LWB and Tierney LCB, then we bought Gabriel for the bench…)
Our secondary or cup-game line-up (in the same formation):
As we discussed and “agreed” above this doesn’t mean, that a club needs only 22 players. Especially if the missed ones are versatile and can be called into action in several positions. But let’s list who else is there with the club (assuming Sokratis and M’khi are gone, Holding – who could be Luiz’s successor – will be sent on loan to Newcastle, and Iliev will be sold or released.).
– Macey (gigantic third choice keeper, should stay)
– Kolasinac (there is a good chance that he will be sold – for cheap – to Schalke or Rome)
– AMN (no matter how versatile and loyal he is, in this enforced formation there are only 2 CM positions altogether, so he should play 2nd/3rd fiddle to the CM and RWB roles if stays)
– Torreira (he is rumored to be dissatisfied, and would prefer to go back to Italy. I really like him, and wouldn’t spend an extra 20 million to replace him with his close peer. Maybe we don’t need to replace him at all, however I think he is a pretty good footballer playing in the right circumstances)
– Elneny (he was playing well and mature, but unless we play with 2 CMs [which challenges either the back 3 or the front 4 concept] he has no future here; he could be sold back to Turkey)
– Guendouzi (according to Arteta everybody stats the season with a clean slate, hence he can be the #3 CM rotating the in the 2 teams, and if Ceballos doesn’t come back, he should be the sole CM in our secondary team)
– Willock (poor Joe is the 4th CM excess to our best 2, and even if we play with 2 [D]CMs I can’t see him a regular in the starting line-ups: Xhaka should team up with Ceballos, and the cup-midfield duo should be Guendouzi and Torreira, maybe even Elneny if stays. Yet, Willock’s energy could make him a valuable late supersub, unless we send him on loan for proper first team experience)
– Özil (I’m not sure if we will see Mesut in Arsenal dress again, but if so, then he should be starting as the AM in the cup-squad and should be replaced regularly by ESR around the 55th minute)
As you can see, we are 8 players over the 22 (already assuming 3 outgoing and 1 incoming not-yet-finalized deals ), but 6 of them are midfielders. I’m not sure we need further MF reinforcements in this formation on top of Ceballos. If we play with 2 CMs then we get either 2 “unused” CBs or 2 neglected attacking players. With Sokratis and Holding out of the picture, who else do we want to be the back-up of the contingency? Mari, whom Arsenal just bought? Or Mustafi, who was our most reliable CB since Arteta took over? The same dilemma applies with the attackers: unless Laca is sold to Athletico Madrid we should leave out one of Auba (captain and player of the season), Laca (hard working ST, player of last season), Pepe (our record signing, and #1 chance creator behind Ozil) and Willian (our talisman/prestige signing of this transfer window). All of them earning a lot for sitting on the bench. Similarly in our B team we should also seriously cut the playing minutes of Nketiah, Nelson, Martinelli or the AM (among ESR, Ozil and Willock).
And yes, I know that we have 4 long term absentees as Chambers, Mari, Martinelli and Mustafi are not available. But the Europa League group stage games start in late October, and by that time both Mari and Mustafi will be back in full training. So the worse thing that could happen is that we should cover 3-5 EL games with 5 CBs (Luiz can marshal those games, AMN can play RCB, or he plays RWB while Bellerin moves to RCB, Saliba can play RCB in PL and EL games for a month, or we can move back to a back 4), so I don’t see the injuries posing any risk. The same applies to Martinelli: as long as he is not available Saka can play LW in the cup games and AMN plays LWB, or even Smith-Rowe, who often played LM in the U23 setup.
My point is that when the large squad and rich tactical and rotation options preference prevail, then there will be casualties who don’t get access to enough playing minutes to fuel their development and make them happy. And I’m not talking (only) about Kolasinac, Elneny or Sokratis, but our beloved academy products and future prospects like Saka, AMN, Willock, Nelson or Smith-Rowe.
Sorry for the long read, but this is the practical aspect of what I have been discussing on a theoretical level in the post.
New Post 🙂
PB, I will copy paste your comment into the new post..
HH, that Ornstein Bellerin rumour is one I’m inclined to believe, because it makes a lot of sense all around. I’m hoping we cash in, which we so rarely do.
Guys that it won’t gut me to sell, though I really like them:
Firstly, Bellerin, I consider a very reliable defender, and good all around footballer. Never became a threat going forward as much as we had hoped. Disappointing as a crosser, and didn’t have as much attacking impact even though he got plenty of minutes. If it’s the Bellerin fee + keeping AMN I’d be very pleased. AMN as another possible midfielder helps where we are short also. If he were given the challenge to possibly become first choice fb or wingback, I think it might really bring even more out of him.
Lacazette, I think is a very good striker who deserves to be first choice somewhere. If he went to Atletico Madrid, I would enjoy cheering for him in Spain and champions league. I haven’t seen enough of Martinelli to comment on his viability as a future replacement, but Nketiah is a guy we must work in as second choice. I would be afraid to see him leave because he’s sitting behind Laca and Auba for too long. He will be a monster striker for some club, and it should be us. If I have it correct, he was a Chelsea product, and somehow they let him slip away. I never tire of reminding Chelsea fans about Salah and deBruyne. I want the same with Eddie.