Arshavin, Chamakh, Squillaci, Djourou: Arsenal’s Forgotten Men
Three matches into the new season and we’ve just suffered through a weekend without the Arsenal playing. No game to gloat or agonise over on this Monday, no over-analyzing goals scored or conceded, no rating players’ performances or lack of. Just plain utter boredom.
This enforced comatosity is perhaps the right time to debate the fate of players on the periphery of Arsenal’s first team. Do the likes of Arshavin, Chamakh, Djourou and Squillaci suffer from boredom pangs as well, when they are left at home while the rest of the team goes out to play? Do they really strive to catch the manager’s eye in training or are they just waiting for a team-mate to get injured or suffer a dip in form to seize their opportunity?
Managing squad players has become more important than ever for football clubs. As the season gathers pace, games will come thick and fast. In a league where every match is keenly contested, players are prone to suffer from physical and mental exhaustion. Having players on the bench ready and motivated to contribute can be the difference between winning something and coming oh so close.
Of course, the ideal scenario is to give some playing time to as many members of the first team as possible. But this is easier said than done. Once a player performs well in a certain position, managers are reluctant to experiment too much. Most of this experimentation tends to take place in domestic cup competitions but that too is a double-edged sword. Too many changes adversely affect a team’s chances of progressing in the tournament thus limiting the chances of fringe players even further.
Coming back to Arsenal – while players such as Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Carl Jenkinson have age on their side and plenty to prove yet, it must be difficult for the older more experienced players. Most of them have seen better days so it must be a challenge to find the motivation to fight for a place in the starting eleven. Which of them can we expect to make an impact on our fortunes this season?
Andrey Arshavin reportedly turned down a move back to Russia in order to stay at Arsenal. By all accounts though, his decision seems to be more for personal reasons than professional ones with Andrey’s family unwilling to leave London at present. Earlier in the summer, his agent had stated clearly that the diminutive Russian would only depart Arsenal if a lucrative contract was offered elsewhere. In a time where footballers resort to extreme hypocrisy to justify their decisions (little boy inside etc), you have to admit Arshavin’s honesty is refreshing – even if not entirely palatable to supporters.
Unless injury sidelines the likes of Gervinho, Podolski or Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Arshavin is unlikely to have much of an impact on Arsenal’s Premier League campaign. Chances to impress might come in domestic cups where his experience could be handy in a team likely to be made up of young and upcoming players. But for a player who seems like he’s struggling to motivate himself, I seriously doubt he can provide much inspiration to others.
Marouane Chamakh is a case study on how quickly things can go wrong. Like Arshavin, the Moroccan started with a bang but the return of Robin van Persie marginalised the former Bordeaux man completely. Unlike Arshavin though, I believe Chamakh suffered because Arsenal did not play to his strengths. With the Gunners shy of putting quick balls into the box, Marouane was asked to match the skill and quick feet of Van Persie, something which seemed to drain the confidence out of the frontman, as appearances and goals dried up.
Hopefully, Arsenal have learnt something from Chamakh’s diminishing form and we will adapt our style to suit our new frontman Olivier Giroud. Agreed Giroud is technically more gifted than the Moroccan but the French striker is also an out-and-out goal-scorer and against Stoke and Liverpool, he cut a frustrated figure as wide players held onto the ball for too long. If Arsenal are to play with a lone striker, we need to find a balance between good build up play and allowing them to do what they do best – poach goals. In that respect, both Giroud and Chamakh would benefit more from the likes of Walcott and Jenkinson playing in the team.
Assuming his present mystery illness is nothing sinister, Chamakh should be involved in domestic competitions for sure. With Arsene Wenger’s options limited in the central striker role and Theo Walcott’s contract situation still unresolved, he might also feature on the bench for league games. But although his work rate was commendable in pre-season, there weren’t any signs that good form was around the corner. Unless Marouane can bundle one or two into the net when he gets his chance, I suspect we’ll see Chamakh’s form and confidence continue to erode during the season.
Sebastian Squillaci is the undoubted leader of The Deadwood Players Union of Arsenal. From day one, the former Sevilla man struggled with the pace and power of the Premier League. And in a season where Arsenal battled for long periods with injuries to central defenders, the fact that the 32-year-old made only one sub appearance in the league is indicative of how far down the pecking order the Frenchman has fallen. I think it’s safe to assume Squillaci will be the last resort this season as well with the likes of Johan Djourou and Ignasi Miquel preferred in the FA and League cups.
Speaking of Djourou, he’s the odd one out among this group. Not old enough or experienced enough to be bracketed with the three above nor a spring chicken like some of other fringe players, the Swiss international is the ideal squad player – not good enough to deserve a start every week but possessing enough quality and versatility to be useful when pressed into action. It may seem like a harsh thing to say but Djourou’s acceptance of a bench role also takes the pressure off the manager.
Which is surely why Arsene Wenger has blocked Djourou’s exit this summer. Johan’s performances last season were quite assured even though he often found himself in and out of the team, sometimes playing centrally while at other times covering for the crocked right-backs. In a Bould-coached defense that does not push up as much, the 25-year-old has the potential to nudge Mertesacker off the bench when he gets the opportunity as the Swiss also possesses the ability to step out with the ball.
So while Johan Djourou has a good chance, barring injuries it’s difficult to see the other three being involved with the first team on a regular basis. On the other hand, Tomas Rosicky’s resurgence serves as the perfect reminder that impossible is nothing. Hopefully when the time comes, one of more of these players will emulate Little Mozart and rediscover their best form.
Who do you think can make an impact if given the opportunity? Post your thoughts.