Well, this morning has been a bit weird so far. My intention was to write an article about Wenger’s selection headache. And so, to get the latest news, straight from Wenger himself, I turned to his pre-match press conference on Arsenal.com.
I already knew that Arteta, Debuchy, Diaby, and Wilshere were available for selection so that wasn’t a shock. But when Wenger was asked about Debuchy he replied ”I can only play three players over 21″ and that sent me into a research tailspin.
At first I thought this was a reference to the “homegrown rule” but there is nothing in that rule which states that you can only have three non-homegrown, over 21, players on the pitch. So, I have to assume he means that he can’t play more than three over 21 in the under 21 competition.
It was a funny thing for Wenger to say. Because it prefaced him saying that Debuchy lacked a bit of match sharpness. So, I suspect it was a case of the boss putting the cart in front of the horse. He meant that Debuchy needs to get some games but he’s not sure where he can fit him in. Wenger is giddy at the fact that Arsenal have so many players fit they are overflowing both the first team and the U21!
Arsenal have so many players fit that getting them all playing time, who should start where and when, and whether players can and should be sold is going to be the debate for the remainder of the season and probably for most of this summer. But let’s just go ahead and say this now: you’ve got nothing to worry about because among the many tricks that Arsene Wenger seems to have learned this season is rotation
Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: Wilshere. Wenger has said that Wilshere will not be sold this summer and as it stands I believe him. Wilshere is one of only 7 home-grown players³ at Arsenal, Wilshere is under contract until 2018, and the team have invested a huge amount into this player with very little return.
There is a little niggle in the back of my mind that wonders: what happens if Wilshere doesn’t get much playing time in the last 8-9 games of the season and starts agitating this summer? And what happens if Man City, who are in grave need of young, English, players come along with a Bale¹ of cash for both club and player?
I don’t think it’s going to be much of a problem, Arsenal can just say no and I suspect that Wenger will find a way to rotate players in and out.
One of the hallmarks of this season has been Arsenal’s rotation. Arsenal are on a 7-match win streak² and during that time there has been plenty of rotation in midfield and in the defense. Wenger has played Gabriel in two places in the center half role, he’s played Ramsey wide, he’s swapped out Chambers and Bellerin, moved Nacho in and out, played Cazorla in the runner and at the number 10, dropped Ozil, played Ozil wide, put Alexis on both sides of the pitch (I mean in different starting positions, he’s always so active it looks like he plays both sides of the pitch!) and started Theo Walcott. This is the chart I made after looking at the starting lineups for the last 7 matches.
Only two players are in every starting lineup in these last 7 matches: Coquelin and Alexis. Koscielny, Özil, and Cazorla started 6; Mertesacker, Bellerin, and Nacho started 5; Paulista and Ramsey 3; Gibbs, Chambo, Welbs, and Ox just 2; and Rosicky the 1.
This seems like a pretty big departure for Arsenal in terms of rotation, especially for the back four. Most Arsenal fans are used to the boss being forced to rotate players through injury but it looks like Wenger is rotating more out of tactical concerns than necessity.
This bodes well for the players returning from injury. Arteta is Arsenal’s most cultured player on the ball. His ability to break lines and find the perfect pass nearly every time will allow Wenger to move Cazorla up into the #10 spot, move Ozil over to a wing spot, and rest Alexis. Wilshere can come in an play for Cazorla in midfield and give him a rest. And Debuchy is one of Arsenal’s best players in the air, there is no shame in putting Bellerin on the bench when Arsenal face a Hull, Sunderland, or Man U.
The two players who will probably struggle to get games are Szczesny and Diaby. Szczesny because Wenger seems like he’s not done punishing him yet and Diaby because he’s been out for so long that it’s impossible to see where he would play. Unless it’s as a sub late in games that Arsenal have wrapped up.
Wenger’s medical crew have done a fantastic job getting players back early this season and Wenger has done his best to keep players fresh through a rotation policy which seems to also take into account the tactical needs of the team. I see plenty of people wondering how everyone is going too fit back in but I, for one am not at all worried.
¹Gareth Bale, world record transfer
²All competitions, they are actually on an 8-match win streak in Premier League play
³Coquelin, Ramsey, Szczesny, Welbeck, Wallcott, Wilshere, and Gibbs