It’s a problem nobody’s talking about. It’s the problem nobody ever thought they’d be talking about.
On the face of it, Arsenal’s squad has a number of issues that require attention. The midfield is marred by inexperience, with the manager still looking for “one more body” (which, at the time of going to press, was touted to be Kop favorite Xabi Alonso); the defense has also seemed understaffed, with cover for the first-choice quartet proving woefully inadequate in the last season.
But what I’m going to talk about here is a problem that supporters have not known over the past few seasons, hence their inability to recognize it.
Yes, it is the Gunners’ very own Problem of Plenty™.
Every Big Four club suffers from it. Chelsea has more midfielders and defenders than anybody (including Chelsea supporters) cares to count. Liverpool can’t get enough of defenders, and if the seemingly endless Gary Barry Saga ever comes to an end, expect more rides on Rafa’s Rotation Merry-Go-Round in its all-new, middle-of-the-field edition. Even Old Trafford plays host to one midfielder too many.
The pack of chasers, led by Tottenham, hasn’t been too shy of playing in the transfer market either, and no time has been wasted in loading the squad rooms to the brim, finances permitting.
But Arsenal, the Premier League’s answer to the stingy, hard-bargaining, deal-snatching, prudent-to-the-point-of-pain Jews of Antwerp, have found themselves in the middle of a glut of strikers. Yes, too many s-t-r-i-k-e-r-s. There, I’ve spelt it out.
Before you decide to give your comment-shaped knives a much needed taste of Blabbering Blogger Blood, please do me a favor and read the rest. After all, you’ve come this far.
Keep in mind that when one talks of a glut, one means that, given a fully fit squad, there is a genuine problem in selecting a player for a particular position from amongst the options available, as all of them are more-or-less of the same level of competence.
In such cases, the manager usually tries to devise formations and styles of play where he can accommodate all the quality that he has in front of him, or simply plays them out of position and hopes that they will adapt. So we have Owen Hargreaves playing on the right of midfield, Michael Essien playing at right-back, etc.
Arsenal, at last count, have five fully fit players capable of playing down the middle, in front of goal. Those players are Carlos Vela, Theo Walcott, Robin Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, and Emmanuel Adebayor.
One feels for the sixth (Eduardo), who’s due to join them by Christmas.
No other team in the Premier League has so many players vying for a chance to lead the line in attack. The fact that Robbie Keane, who was a decent 20 goals-a-season forward at White Hart Lane, has been judged worthy of a 20 million-pound move to Anfield just points to the paucity of good attacking talent in the League.
As I feel all that steel caressing my neck, let me make it clear that while the first-choice pairing is most probably going to be Adebayor up-front with Van Persie just behind him, things can change very rapidly once the season gets going. Vela, while being impressive in the friendlies, will most likely be confined to Carling Cup action this year.
Bendtner, however, is a totally different case. The tall, strong Dane has improved by leaps and bounds since last season. He is good on the ball (better than Adebayor), has great vision, can link up play, has an almighty jump (remember the goal against Tottenham?), and can be very handy as a target man in the box.
And, what about Walcott, who has been staking a claim for a place up-front since April this year. The pace has been supplemented with better ball-control, better balance, and greater strength to handle the physical challenge posed by defenders. All attributes which came to the fore in that run against Liverpool in the Champions League.
Given, he’d been playing on the wings for most of last season, and will probably do so in the beginning of the new one too. However, he has competition there as well, with Emmanuel Eboue, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, and even Armand Traore finding favor with Arsene Wenger for positions on the flanks.
The problem here has two sides to it.
First, what happens when a player like, say, Van Persie, gets injured, and is replaced by somebody like Bendtner? If the Dane revels in the position and does really well, then the Dutch forward will have a tough time getting back into the team.
Second, how long can a player with undeniable quality like Walcott be confined to the role of the Super-Sub, before he begins to feel a touch restless. Surely he’s done enough to deserve a place in his preferred position?
Come December, with Eduardo’s return, the problem will only be exacerbated. What shape will his comeback take in the face of such competition?
Make no mistake; Wenger is in a very happy situation. He’d rather have too many than too few. Nevertheless, it represents a potential problem in the future and it’ll be interesting to see how the Professor will deal with it.