by Nia Griffiths
With Tomas Rosicky getting miffed at his lack of playing time and others, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and even Serge Gnabry, all vying for space in the new season, have we got too many midfielders?
Once upon a time, in a land… just down the road, there played a team of footballers who left most Arsenal fans with their head in their hands on more than more occasion.
In 2011, the Arsenal squad consisted of Manuel Almunia in goal, Andres Santos running about somewhere – most likely in the wrong place, Denilson, Johan Djourou, Nicklas Bendtner… you get the picture. Looking back, I don’t even think we realised how dark times were.
Saying this, our midfield didn’t look bad compared to the shambles that was our defence at the time. We had recently acquired Mikel Arteta, Andrei Arshavin didn’t look dead inside yet, and Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, while weren’t quite at their peak could ‘do a job’ as they say. However, we were always one or two injuries away from a crisis and one or two signings away from being a strong squad.
It was a nervous time to be an Arsenal fan. All jokes aside, many couldn’t see how the situation was going to improve. Our star players kept running off as soon as a richer club so much as broke wind in their direction and the ones who wanted to stay were getting kicked off the pitch and into the treatment room.
Times they are a-changing
Now, we’re in a position where we aren’t facing this problem. In fact, now we have the opposite.
Players (well, Rosicky) are getting impatient with their lack of playing time and although for many this should translate into hunger to work and get into the first team, for some this seems like a real sticking point.
Our Little Mozart seems far from happy to have been granted a year contract extension and, as someone the fans love deeply, it’s a little unsettling.
Do we truly have too many midfielders to keep everyone happy? Or is this an individual case?
Challenging our rivals
It’s not fool proof but a reasonably reliable away of gaging whether we can contend for the title next season it to look at our closest rivals. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all have around nine main midfielders in their squad. While on paper we have 12, Gedion Zelalem and Krystian Beilik are young and will therefore either go out on loan or pick up more experience in the youth squad.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the state of Abou Diaby’s situation – although we know it’s expired, he’s thought to be in negotiations over a new one that involves a pay-to-play clause but nothing’s been confirmed yet. However, given his history with injuries, as harsh as it may sound, it’s difficult to truly count him amongst the squad.
So really, our midfield is no more congested than our nearest and not-so-dearest.
Does Rosicky therefore have a right to be angry about his lack of playing time?
If you look at who’s in front of him in the lineup, it’s hard to argue that he should have a starting place. While an excellent player, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and now Jack Wilshere are all leaps ahead of the Czech international.
It therefore seems to come down to an issue of age, rather than ability? Rosicky wants to get a couple more solid seasons of playing time under his belt before retirement?
Rosicky is a fantastic super-sub and I always get a tingle up my spine when I see the number seven being held up on the board. However, when our team is already gelling so well, it’s difficult to see where he’d start over anyone else, unless it was a cup game and one of the other midfielders needed a rest.
If you look at James Milner who has now signed for Liverpool from Manchester City, the two situations are comparable. He’s a couple of years younger than Rosicky and played for City a couple of years less but still would rather go to Liverpool than sit on City’s bench – a team who is capable of paying far more in terms of wages than we – and possibly Liverpool – could.
How do we solve this?
Is there truly a way to keep everyone happy if we want to be competitive? If we want a big squad is it only natural we run into these problems?
Squad rotation is one answer. However, we’ve shown time and time again this season that keeping the same starting 11 is hugely beneficial in terms of cohesion on the pitch and bonds within the team. Is it worth disrupting that for the sake of one player who feels undervalued? I don’t believe so.
On the other hand, Rosicky isn’t just ‘one player’. He’s our Little Mozart who’s coming up to ninth season with Arsenal. He’s shown loyalty and love for the club, and just pushing him aside seems a little… I don’t know… unfair – for lack of a better word.
Another answer is upping his wages but – and I could be wrong – Rosicky doesn’t seem like that type of player. He was originally thought to be returning to his old club, Sparta Prague, and I highly doubt they were offering him huge wages considering there was talk of the fans of the Czech club having a ‘whip around‘ to help fund his move.
With Rosicky, it genuinely seems to be exclusively about playing time.
It’s a bit of a catch 22. If Rosicky doesn’t make his peace with not being chosen for the first team or miraculously become Ozil 2.0 over the course of the summer, he may have to be disgruntled and leave next season. However, having a player who’s become somewhat of a veteran for the club, leave on bad terms is the last thing we should want.
As ever, I’ll leave this in the trusty hands of Arsene Wenger who knows football, the team and Tomas far better than I ever could or will.
I don’t envy him one bit.