It is always difficult to find inspiration to write about your club side in the middle of an international break. That is even truer perhaps when your club side had so few players featuring for their countries. However, it is with a touch of delicious irony that Arsenal’s lack of players on international duty is actually the inspiration for this article.
I know many Arsenal supporters may not actually care about England or their own national side as much as their beloved Gunners. Personally, I do enjoy seeing our players excel for their country, but in this particular break, I am taking equal pleasure in seeing most of them not doing so. The team looked leggy against Bayern and Spurs, devoid of ideas, and sorely in need of a break. The international fixtures would normally not provide the respite required for Wenger and his squad, but strangely this time around it just may have done.
The Gunners’ next Premier League outing is on the face of it not too daunting against a struggling West Brom, but the task could be less daunting if Wenger can select a largely, if not entirely, fresh side. Now obviously I am writing this piece before the second round of international matches but it is conceivable that he could, should he chose to, select a strong outfield eleven, NONE of whom played in games for their countries.
Arsenal are already blessed to have established first-team regulars who do not feature for their countries at present. In the case of Mertesacker, this is due to retirement from the international form of the game but for others the reasons differ. Flamini’s time has been and gone and due to Spain’s depth of talent, Arteta’s never arrived. Monreal is being inexplicably overlooked, perhaps as he has become a genuine full-back in England whereas Spain favour a more wing-back style. Bellerin’s time is surely imminent but, as yet, he has not had the call. He may well have been playing for the under-21s but his minor injury precluded that. Gabriel has again been called into Brazil’s squad, but did not feature against Argentina.
Then of course we have the Arsenal injured brigade who would have all played for their countries had they been fit, all of whom may well be fit for their club by this Saturday’s trip to the Hawthorns. Certainly Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bellerin should all be fit, and Theo Walcott is possible, though less likely, according to Wenger.
In addition, we have the absolutely delightful decision by Germany to give Mesut Ozil a well-earned rest. With Ozil in the form of his life for his club, I am sure Wenger, along with several million Gooners, must have wanted to kiss Joachim Low when that was announced. Another fact that may have gone under the radar for some is that Petr Cech also did not play in the Czech friendly against Serbia. Let’s hope he is not used on Tuesday vs Poland.
All the above being taking into account along with the opposition, it is conceivable, albeit unlikely, that Wenger could field a strong but fully rested starting XI versus the Baggies. It could look something like this…
This actual team may not start, but I am sure if Alexis and Cazorla were on the bench, few Arsenal fans would argue. Certainly Sanchez is looking in need of a recharge of those Duracell’s.
One further thought that has struck me whilst writing this piece is the parallels with the team Arsene Wenger inherited and took to early glory, in terms of the back line. In 1997, Arsenal has currently an established back five consisting of a world-class keeper and centre-back, as well as three other fabulous defenders not playing for their countries. In 1997, Seaman and Adams were England regulars, but Dixon and Winterburn were at that point nowhere near the England set up. Bould began the season with Adams and he had been overlooked by his country for the majority of his career.
Stevie was a veteran by then and in a situation not dissimilar to the one that Wenger has now with Mertesacker and Gabriel, as the season wore on it was Martin Keown who played more often. Keown did force his way back into the England reckoning and Glenn Hoddle took him to France ’98.
So in 2015, we have our world-class keeper in Cech (Seaman 97) and central defender in Koscielny (Adams 97.) We have a veteran centre-back retired from international football but still playing at the top level in Per (Bouldie 97,) and two fabulous full-backs in Bellerin and Monreal (Dixon and Winterburn 97) not gaining international recognition. Lastly we have an out-and-out old style defender in Gabriel waiting to step in and on the brink of playing for his country (Keown 97.)
This current defence, certainly in the league at least, is looking solid and seems to be developing a good understanding, so here’s hoping the similarities with 97/98 don’t end there.