Only seven of our squad are over 25 – we need experience yesterday

Surveying the scene at the end of the Liverpool match I couldn’t help but notice the number of teenagers we’d just fielded. Four had played with a further two sat as unused subs on the bench. Between them they had a total of six Premiership games under their belts.

That got me thinking: “Just how young is our squad?” Well, take a look at Arsenal’s current first choice line up and you’ll see just two players over 25:

Szczesny 21
Sagna 28
Gibbs 21
Vermalen 25
Koscielny 24
Song 23
Wilshere 19
Nasri / Ramsey 24 / 20
Gervinho 24
Walcott 22
Van Persie 28

Encouragingly though, I see a spine of mentally tough players which has ironically been our achilles heel for the last few seasons. It’s an attribute most commonly acquired with experience but Szczesny, Vermaelen, Wilshere and van Persie have it despite their relatively tender years. Sagna is also solid, but the jury is out on the rest of them – seasoned pros they ain’t.

However, what really concerns me is the lack of experience in the rest of our squad because we are so injury prone that it borders on the ridiculous. For example, at the time of writing we have Gibbs, Koscielny, Djourou, Squillaci, Diaby, Wilshere and Rosicky injured. We also seem to pick up suspensions with alarming regularity, so our squad players get plenty of game time and it’s in those matches, when we have a depleted side, that we are at our most vulnerable (like Liverpool at the weekend). So it’s crucial to have solid cover.

Looking on it turns out we have a further 19 players who’ve been given a squad number this season. Of these, just five are over the age of 25 which I find quite astonishing, especially when you consider that the most experienced two are also the most useless (Almunia and Squillaci). Here is the rest of the squad in order of age:

Almunia 34
Squillaci 31
Arshavin 30
Rosicky 30
Chamakh 27
Diaby 25
Fabianski 25
Djourou 24
Bendtner 23
Mannone 23
Traore 21
Eastmond 20
Lansbury 20
Campbell 19
Frimpong 19
Jenkinson 19
Oxlade-Chamberlain 19
Miyaichi 18
Miquel 18

Having a sprinkling of youngsters is fine, they can be encouraged and protected by senior players in matches where they have to deputise. But we have it the wrong way round – a sprinkling of senior pros amidst a creche of youngsters. So instead of having to field one or two kids in an injury crisis, we have to field four or five.

The Liverpool defeat is the perfect example as Frimpong’s naivete ultimately cost us a draw. Although he had an excellent match and will be superb one day, his inexperience let him down – what a shame he didn’t have a wise old head next to him to calm him down and help him through his full debut. Lansbury was an ineffective sub, Jenkinson was so knackered that he cramped up before the end and if I’m being hyper critical of Miquel, he showed a lack of composure as he whacked the ball just anywhere for their opening goal, unaware that Ramsey was in the way. It was 90% bad luck but still, you don’t see Terry, Ferdinand or Vermaelen involved in incidents like that.

The point is this – if all we have are teenagers, young pros and a couple of useless thirty-somethings as cover, what chance do we have of a top four finish?

“Ah, but Man Utd won the league with a very young side back in 1996,” I hear the Arsene-defenders cry. Yes that’s true. In the season when Alan Hansen infamously declared “You’ll win nothing with kids” following their opening day defeat, Fergie’s fledglings ended up claiming the title with youngsters like Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Giggs and the Neville brothers. However, that team of “kids” actually had an experienced spine of Schmeichel (33 years old), Irwin (31), Bruce (30), Pallister (35) and Cantona (29). If Wenger is trying to emulate Ferguson’s success with a predominantly youthful side (and there’s nothing wrong with that as a strategy) he needs to add the four or five experienced guys to the mix that they had.

Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal

Inexperienced and injury-prone - should he really be our first choice left back?

“But Arsene is running our club sensibly in order to pay off the stadium debt and make sure we don’t do a Leeds or even go bust by chasing big signings,” claim Arsene’s loyalists. I agree entirely and applaud him for doing so. In a football world gone mad which has seen Chelsea, Man City, Barcelona and now Liverpool spending ridiculous amounts on transfers, paying obscene wages and living outside of their means, it is truly refreshing to see Arsenal run its business on a self-sustained model. I am proud we are being sensible and think Wenger is a genius for the way in which he can find and develop players like Fabregas, Adebayor, Toure and make money for the club whilst keeping us in the top four. Therefore I understand and accept that it is a big part of our strategy to buy promising youngsters, give them first team experience to develop them and turn them into more valuable assets.

However, these youngsters make mistakes as part of their learning process and so having too many of them in the squad at any one time can hinder performances and therefore impact on the chance to win trophies. So it is important to have the right blend in our squad. Too many youngsters and you will make too many mistakes – not enough youngsters and you won’t be able to develop your assets, sell them on and live within your means.

And this is where our problem lies. Somewhere along the way we have lost sight of this necessity for balance and focused too much on youth development, becoming – dare I say it – a selling club to the fat cats who don’t run their clubs properly like Man City and Barcelona. This has meant plenty of profits, but no trophies.

The frustrating thing is, it is so easily fixable. The club has done the hard part by setting up a youth academy to bring these teenagers through, implementing an excellent scouting network and investing in state of the art training facilities for Wenger to polish up his rough diamonds. Now do the easy part – sign a few cheques for some experienced pros!

If you’d told me back in May that we’d spend £25m by mid-August, I’d have been delighted. Wenger has never spent more than £25m in any one transfer window so I’d have guessed he had finally signed the senior pros we needed to complement our precocious youngsters.

Erm… not quite.

As it turns out we’ve spent all that money on two teenagers from League One, one teenager from the Costa Rican league and a 24 year old Ivorian winger/striker from the French league. So not one minute of Premiership experience for £25m.

How is buying even more youngsters going to help us this season in our crucial battle for a top four spot? It isn’t of course. As ever, Wenger has bought for tomorrow.

I just don’t get it. Why are only seven of our 31 man squad over 25? Does it really have to be such a low number? We could have got the balance right with better long term planning. For example, instead of aiming for only seven of the squad to be over 25, why couldn’t it have been ten? We’d still have 21 under-25s with good re-sale values and those other three players would add vital experience, help bring along the younger ones and make sure we didn’t choke in Carling Cup finals and title run-ins.

Wenger and the board should’ve sat down in May following last season’s collapse and decided to lose a few youngsters and replace them with experience. Consider the following scenario as a loose example off the top of my head of what should’ve happened this summer. Imagine we’d released Lansbury and Traore and sold Djourou for a few million. We could’ve then replaced them with Mikel Arteta (29) for £8m, Leighton Baines (26) for £10m and Per Mertesacker (26) for £6m. That’s an outlay of £24m (easily covered by the impending Nasri sale alone) which gives us two proven Premiership players and a dominant centre-back capped 75 times by Germany – bags of experience in positions that need strengthening.

So a significant but not drastic tweak to our transfer strategy would keep us operating within our means but also make us more competitive on the pitch with three players ready to slot straight into the side. This also means that Gibbs, Ramsey and Koscielny can be developed at their own pace without the pressure of being first team regulars – much like Ferguson is doing with the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at Man Utd.

Now we have a potential first team line-up of:

Szczesny 21
Sagna 28
Baines 26
Vermalen 25
Mertesacker 26
Song 23
Wilshere 19
Arteta 29
Gervinho 24
Walcott 22
Van Persie 28

Wouldn’t you have been happier on Saturday to see Baines at left back instead of Jenkinson? Arteta instead of Ramsey? Mertesacker instead of Miquel? I would. There’s even a case for throwing Scott Parker into the mix too for a couple of seasons to bring on guys like Frimpong and Song so they wouldn’t make silly decisions that mean we now have no defensive midfielder available for Sunday’s game at Old Trafford.

In conclusion, I’m not asking for Wenger to be sacked. I’m not asking for us to abandon our sensible business model. I’m not asking to make £40m signings every summer like Man City. I just want the imbalance in our squad to be redressed and the youth purchases to be reigned in a little so we can put out a side each week capable of winning trophies again.

Nine days to bring in three experienced yet affordable pros to potentially save our season. Will Wenger do it? Or will he sign more youngsters with a juicy re-sale value? I’m hoping for the former, but would bet on the latter.

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  1. Maypole

    Good analysis you make some good points

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  2. DanS

    Arsenal are looking at finishing 6th or 7th in the Prem. as a best case scenario now. They to too fragile physically and mentally. Maybe Wenger is wearing too many hats, as it appears Mata is about to sign for Chelsea, so there goes that option for replacing Cesc. Once it became clear Cesc was leaving, say mid-2010, they should have signed a replacement. Mata should have been signed ASAP this summer. In a lot of ways Arsenal are like a big company that is having a hard time adapting to new economic circumstances. They are kind of like Borders Bookstores, only getting into that pesky e-retailing thing 10 to 15 years after Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    Yes, Arsenal shouldn’t be dropping 40mil per transfer window, but they should spend 60-70mil. now to shore up the backline and the mid-field. This is on top of the money down the drain on the teenagers du jour. I’ve never been sold on van Persie, but when Arsenal lose him to injury this season (and they will, probably mid-November), at least they have other options in the wingers and moving Walcott up front. They are too fragile from the front office to the pitch.

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    • David

      I agree DanS

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  3. Nicokoli

    Spot on – we need experience to balance the team – 1 centre back – 2 midfielders and a striker. Unrortunately we dont have the philosophy nor the money to buy big and have to wait to sell players to spend. Now we have money from the sell of Fabregas and Nasri (Mr Greedy) we cant find players to buy and if we do they wont sign until they know we are through to the final stages of the Champions League! We have put our sleves in a very difficult position thanks to Wenger and the board.
    If it is Wenger that has money given to him to spend by the board and choses to not spend and stubornly paly out his youth fantasy of winning things then to tell you the truth he should go and a manager that will spend wisely on proven experience should come in. If however Weneger is being made a scape goat and the board do not want to spend money, then Wenger should stay because no other manager in he world can do what he has done in the last 5-6 years.

    It is not coincidental that Wenger has lost his way and is unable to bring in good proven experienced players when the following has occured:

    1. Move to new stadium – lack of funds
    2. Billionaires taking over clubs – raising the market value of players to riddiculus levels
    3. Players having no loyalty and wanting to leave to the money rich clubs for huge wages.

    Arsenal could not compete and still cant. Until football is governed and controlled fairly for all clubs to live within their means we will not be playing on an even playing field. The new rules and are coming hence why Manchester City, Chealse etc. are buying like hell makeing 2-3 full teams of quality players. It is sad that football has come to this but hey what can we do as fans – sit back and get frustrated, ban going to games?, I dont know but one thing I do know is that we are in trouble this year and Wenger’s test is now!

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    • Gooner Steve

      It is hard to know who has been at fault for the mis-management of the club over the last year or so. Is it Wenger, the board or a mixture of the two? Either way I agree that thanks to the three points you mentioned we cannot compete with Chelsea, Utd and City.

      We are now on the verge of a ‘Big Three’ in the Premiership, with us falling back to join Liverpool and Spurs in a ‘Next Biggest Three’.

      Mata preferred Chelsea to Arsenal, Phil Jones preferred Man Utd to Arsenal, Nasri and Clichy preferred City to Arsenal. Those three clubs hold all the power now and we simply can’t compete in terms of wages or transfer funds.

      However, we can do better than we’ve done over the last 12 months and we must make good signings or those three will disappear over the horizon.

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