Arsene Wenger defends the changes he made in Sunday’s FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest, despite the players chosen having hardly featured for weeks.
Wenger lost his first ever FA Cup third round match on Sunday, having rotated heavily, as only Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding kept their places from the Chelsea draw.
And after losing, the long-serving boss was asked whether it was wise to make so many changes.
“We had a very difficult schedule,” Wenger responded. “Many players were on the edge and we play again on Wednesday. It was nearly impossible not to make [changes].
“I can understand that the selection is questioned, but it would also be a little bit of an easy excuse because we had eight or nine experienced international players on the pitch today.
“Even against a Championship team, we played with all the respect and that would be the wrong excuse.”
Then, when asked about the performances of those experienced internationals, Wenger answered: “I wouldn’t like to talk about the individual performances today because it’s disappointing that we lost the game.
“That’s all I can say. There are some days where you have to say, ‘Nottingham Forest were better than us’. Unfortunately that was the case. Of course that was disappointing and on top of that we have another big game on Wednesday. We have to focus on that now.”
A big problem with the team starting on Sunday is that so few of them have played regularly recently. Eight players have made two starts or fewer since November:
Ospina (2 starts since Nov 23)
Debuchy (2 starts since Nov 23)
Mertesacker (1 start since Oct 10)
Nelson (1 start since Nov 2)
Willock (1 start since Nov 2)
Elneny (2 starts since Nov 23)
Walcott (2 starts since Nov 2)
Welbeck (2 starts since Nov 23)
Rusty #AFC, but no excuses.
— Crippy Cooke (@CrippyCooke) January 7, 2018
Though, to an extent, I can understand Wenger’s reasoning for the selection. Players like Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez played the full match against Chelsea. They played 90 minutes on the previous Sunday and Thursday as well. They’ll probably play 90 minutes again this Wednesday. You don’t start players five times in under two weeks unless you want injuries.
If you asked fans to pick two fixtures Mesut Özil should feature in – Chelsea (Premier League), Nottingham Forest (FA Cup) and Chelsea (League Cup) – I’m pretty sure every single person would pick the two Chelsea matches. On the other hand, there isn’t any excuse for not bringing a couple of game changers for the bench.
Wenger got lucky not doing so in the Europa League, but his luck ran out against Forest. He only had Chuba Akpom to bring off the bench late in the game, and the striker missed a massive chance to put the Gunners back in it. So the manager has to accept his share of the blame.
Hopefully his sacrifice is rewarded against Chelsea on Wednesday.