Does Arsenal Have It’s Most Complete Squad in A Decade?
Looking over the last few years of Arsenal squads its hard not to think that we’ve been incomplete that we’ve always been missing depth at key areas throughout the squad to make it through the gauntlet that is the Premier League season. However, in the aftermath of the League Cup win, many, myself included began to wonder if, Wenger finally has enough pieces to make a serious run on honours this season.
When we looked at the squad for Tuesday night’s EFL matchup, Wenger rotated the entire starting XI from the XI that started the league match on Saturday. Additionally, when subs were needed, he did not need to call on any first teamers to put the game away or close the game out.
Sure enough the opponent was Nottingham Forrest. They weren’t really in the running but having the ability to rotate our squad, have them dominate a match completely and not come out with any wear and tear on starters or injuries to key players who rotate in is a big plus for Arsenal.
So the question has to be asked – do we finally have the depth and pieces we need to compete?
Our starting tandem of Petr Cech and his number 2 David Ospina are as solid a tandem as you can. While Petr Cech does worry you some time with defending his near post, he is still a bona fide winner an instills immense confidence in the back 4 in front of him.
Ospina for all his faults showed in the first Champion’s League group match this year why he is an apt back up to Petr Cech. With PSG in the ascendancy it was Ospina who kept Arsenal in this match until they could sort themselves out and get the equalizer. I’ve never been a big fan of Dave because of his tendency to actually sit behind the line as shots are coming at him. But I have to admit when he is on, he is hard to beat and makes some tremendous saves.
Add to the mix young master Emi Martinez (who had very little to do on Tuesday) and Arsenal have a trio of talented goalkeepers we’ve not had before.
Fullback is always a worry for me. We only need look back to a few years ago when Arsenal were cursed with 4 fullbacks who all were injured at the same time. Add to that that while our starting fullbacks were good to serviceable, the backups were worrisome at best.
Fast forward to this year. At right back we have the kid everyone is talking about in Hector Bellerin. He is still developing but the talent is undeniable. He continues to grow in stature every week and is already one of the best RBs in the league. His back up is Mathieu Debuchy at the moment.
Now Monsieur Debuchy may not be everyone’s cup of team and his lack of desire to fight for a role leaves something to be desired but let’s remember before his injury he not only was solid for us but he was a starter for France’s national team. When he wants to be, he is a solid player. In the end however, I suspect he is sold in January which will pave the way for Carl Jenkinson to take his spot as Bellerin’s back up.
On the left we have Mr. Steady himself Nacho Monreal. Over the course of the last two seasons there hasn’t been a player as dependable or consistent as Monreal. He hasn’t gotten the plaudits he likely deserves because he isn’t a speed demon. He’s a solid defender. He can get forward and every now and then scores a goal. In other words pretty dependable.
Backing him up is Kieran Gibbs. Gibbs is another of those players you either love or you hate. There seems to be no in between. In fairness I love the guy. I think his inconsistencies are down to his lack of playing time and the injuries he suffered. But when offered the chance to move on for starting time he decided to stay. He captained the side on Tuesday and still looked solid playing second fiddle.
Starters: Bellerin, Monreal
Backup: Debuchy, Gibbs
It is often considered Arsenal’s weakest point. Statements like that ignore a lot of facts but in one aspect we always looked short in this area especially after Gabriel who started off so well, suddenly looked lost whenever he came on the pitch.
This season Wenger was also confronted with the long-term loss of stalwart Per Mertesacker, the man whom he had just named Captain.
Wenger was already blessed with Koscielny who in my opinion is the best CB in the league. So he needed to add wisely. He added two amazing CBs to the stable. Early in the window, he added Rob Holding of Bolton. No one expected much from the lad, but it was clear in his early showings that Arsenal likely have another stud CB developing.
In addition to Holding, Wenger added Per’s former DFB teammate and current DFB international, Shkrodan Mustafi. Through 3 games Mustafi and Koscielny grow in confidence working together complementing each other’s styles. Mustafi and Kos could grow as a pair in the time that Mertesacker is out that it’s likely the BFG won’t be a starter again for this club.
When the BFG returns from injury – Arsenal will have have 5 CBs that could start (to varying degrees).
Starters: Koscielny, Mustafi
Backup: Holding, Mertesacker
Let’s just list the names shall we – Özil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Xhaka, Elneny, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the youngster only known as Jeff.
We are now debating about what our midfield set up needs to be to get the best out of the team. Özil, without a doubt is undroppable unless he’s injured. He is without a doubt one of the most, if not most creative player in the league and offers so much in terms of creating chances and opening up defenses.
The rest of the midfield depends. It’s clear right now, Wenger prefers the tandem of Cazorla and Coquelin which worked very well together to close out the 14/15 season. The question is though – does Coquelin offer anything against teams that are going to give the ball to Arsenal. Do you need someone who’s best trait is clogging the midfield and nothing else. You get that with Xhaka but you also get his passing ability and let’s not even talk about his two thunder strikes.
Starters: Özil, Ramsey, Xhaka
Backup: Cazorla, Elneny, Coquelin
Depth: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jeff
It was a worry for so long that Olivier Giroud was the only out and out striker we had. I’ve always been a fan of the big Frenchman but understand that he has limitations. The most worrying thing about him is that his form is cyclical. He scores plenty then disappears plenty. His peaks and troughs of success and failure aren’t little powder puff beginner hills – his peaks and troughs are Kilimanjaro high and Grand Canyon low.
Wenger tried with Theo Walcott to add a different dynamic up front and it looked like it might work. However, Theo is no good playing with his back to defenses and we weren’t really playing in a way that benefited Theo’s attributes.
This year we’ve moved to trying to turn Alexis into Kun Aguerro. Now Alexis has his strengths and his tenaciousness is one of them. If he can make it work it will work. But I like him out wide running inside at defenders. He just forces defenders back and if they do pressure him, they open space for others to exploit.
We added to our forward mix last season through the surprise emergence of Alex Iwobi. He has already shown that the trajectory for success is going through the roof. He is still young and still makes mistakes but he is much more aware on the ball then Ox or Theo are and his creativity and strength make him a handful when attacking the box.
Wenger added what is the final piece to the forward puzzle this transfer window through the addition of Deportivo’s Lucas Perez. Unless you were an avid La Liga watcher you had never really heard of the player who scored 17 and assisted 10. But we got a taste of his determination and strength on Tuesday night and the hope is that over time he adds that to Arsenal’s attack.
The unknown is where Danny Welbeck fits into the squad. Danny offers his own set of tools to the array of strikers and has to be considered for the lineup when he is healthy.
Starters: Alexis, Iwobi, Theo
Backup: Perez, Giroud, Welbeck (when fit)
Depth: Akpom, Sanogo
The fact is this, our season started and we didn’t have 10 players out on the trainer’s table. Even with the likes of Ramsey (short-term), Welbeck, Mertesacker and Jenkinson out injured, Arsenal have enough depth to cover each position with 2 capable players.
Add in the wealth of promising youth players, and Arsenal have likely their most complete team that they’ve had since Arsene Wenger started selling off prized players.
There are still a lot of intangibles. Players can go down injured, their replacements may not play to form or any cadre of issues could arise that could hurt Arsenal’s depth. But no longer can you realistically look across this squad and say that there isn’t someone who could slot in for the starter and we would lose a lot.
Sure, you lose something with the likes of Mesut Özil goes down because well – he’s Mesut Özil, but Aaron Ramsey could move into that position and based on his experience can add his own dimension to that number 10 role. The point is there is talent to cover losses. That’s what you need if you intend to compete for titles. Let’s see if they actually can do it this year.