Sun, sand, the ocean and a whole lot of footy. What a success for Mikel Arteta and his Arsenal squad this mid winter trip to Dubai has been. It really has been a breath of fresh air to see the injured players ease back into training, the players working on tactics and technical play; and plenty of fun and games as well.
In the space of a couple of days we have seen two prime examples of Mikel emphasising team culture and dynamics.
Firstly Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is on his bike to Barcelona. Good player for us. Fantastic in fact, and contributed significantly to trophies, but just not the right temperament to adapt to an environment where punctuality, leadership, trust and unity are at the forefront. Good move from the boss on this one, I wish Auba luck and hope for his success, but no player is bigger than this club.
I compare this scenario to that in my home country with its national rugby team – the All Blacks. There is just no way in hell this would’ve been stood for, for this long. The All Blacks culture is about unity, spirit and culture. It is a mentality of champions.
Training in Dubai was not just about the football, but also about bringing the squad together. See the video below with the coaching staff throwing tennis balls at the players as they ran the field. Non football related, players making a fool of themselves, plenty of laughter and all in good humour. Love it. Talk about keeping grounded.
Team building at it's finest! Love it.pic.twitter.com/BtpdatF1pr
— KiwiGoonerHaz (@Thekiwigooner1) February 4, 2022
Being in Dubai has also meant the players have been away from all the media chat about Arsenal missing out on their targets and being so light on depth. I’ve seen the majority of our fanbase up in arms the past week regarding the recent transfer window. “Arteta out” they say. “Top four is gone.” “Not watching games for the rest of the season.”
To be perfectly honest – this reasoning just doesn’t fly with me. Far, far too reactionary and not enough thought, critique or analysis whatsoever. So let’s break it down shall we.
A top signing would certainly have been nice, but it just wasn’t available. Re: Isak – you don’t pay double the value of someone; especially when they are not the finished article. Would you pay double the price of a brand new Tesla when you have a decently functioning, but slightly old Land Cruiser and know you can get the Tesla for its normal price in 6 months time? No, the world just doesn’t work like that.
Maybe a young signing or two would’ve also been nice, but you can’t always have everything.
Now let’s get to the negativity surrounding our ‘threadbare squad’ for the remainder of the season. Arteta and Edu let multiple players go with no replacements. First of all 17 of the remaining 18 players have played the majority of the minutes in the season so far. Only Maitland Niles and Aubameyang have had a some what decent amount of playing time so far. Chambers, Kolasinac, and Mari have not been involved making their departures absolutely irrelevant. I’d rather a youngster get called up if needed than one of the above.
In regards to AMN, Elneny will prove a more than able deputy to the squad rotation option. AMN really doesn’t add more in the current circumstances. I’ve talked about Auba above. His relationship with Arteta was done, and thus his role in the squad. Let’s also not forget, we started playing football after he got dropped. Both parties are ready to celebrate his successes at Arsenal but realise it is time to move on.
When it comes to the squad we have, it is the same squad that played the first half of the season. If it was good and large enough for the beginning, it should be good enough for the next few months. The players are rested, recovered and raring to go after Dubai. There is no ‘red zone’ to worry about as this has firmly been dealt with by the last few weeks of recovery and training. The medical team will be working extremely closely with the squad on load management. They will be monitoring injures and putting the players through various injury prevention programmes such as gym training, active recovery, cryotherapy, massage, physiotherapy etc etc. The are the best in the business and the players will rightly get looked after.
Being a physio myself, you get to know your players and what they can handle. A two week break can be more than enough to decrease load on joints, overloaded tendons and muscles. Of course you can’t avoid bad tackles, but the players will be physically ready. The team we have bar Emile Smith Rowe (who looks to be doing well currently if reports are to be believed), look very physically robust.
We have 17 games to go. That is very, very manageable. It is certainly manageable with a somewhat thin squad. More importantly positive results are more than achievable if injuries and load are managed well, which should be the case between now and May. I am strongly confident on the injury and depth front.
When you look back in history one prime example comes to mind when you think about a small squad achieving highly – Leicester winning the Premier League title. The club gained widespread plaudits and respect for their on field performances. However what wasn’t so well known was the remarkable work of their medical department. They outshone the rest of the league when it came to time and games lost due to injury. They kept the same starting line up almost entirely fit for most of the season and reaped the rewards.
Leicester City suffered 19 injuries in the 2015/16 season totalling to 275 days of players missing due to injury. Contrast this with third placed Tottenham who suffered 45 injuries and 1073 days lost to injury. These stats blow the mind. You can literally attribute Leicester’s title to squad and injury management. Ranieri had a light squad that year, but a combination of less matches, good medical principles and fatigue management brought his top side onto the pitch more than any other.
If Leicester can do this with a light schedule, then you can sure as hell bet that Arsenal can make a good shift of it too.
At the end of the day, if the best players are consistently on the field your chances of winning increase dramatically. All the factors are in Arteta’s favour for the rest of the season. – fewer matches, less fixture congestion, a big mid season break, injured players fully recovering, and the best technology and medics in the game to aid in the technical side of injury prevention.
The Arsenal really are in a stronger position than most give them credit for. If we don’t make the top four this season it won’t be because we didn’t sign Alexander Isak. It will be down to the entire squad not being quite there yet in this project. Adding to the squad is essential, but that is next summer’s job. For now, it is all about developing the qualities and tactical nous of what we have. Let’s be honest – the base of this side is what Arteta will run with for the next 5 years plus. Edu and Arteta have recruited well of late, and I think we can all be confident the same will happen this summer.
We have excellent young players. Emile Smith Rowe should be back in the fold. Lacazette is a great team player. Gabi Martinelli has been training up front – you can read the article by Kaya Kaynak on the Dubai trip below.
Exciting times if that succeeds. How good would a front four of Martinelli, Smith Rowe, Saka and Odegaard be? Rather than splashing 70 million on a CF that could be used for the likes of Declan Rice in the CM spot, which is just as critical to get right in my opinion. How good is an internal solution!
Anyway, enough from me. Get amongst all the other blogs on Gunners Town. My other pieces are here. Plenty on WIlliam Saliba, Emile Smith Rowe and more.
Kia Kaha team! Get amongst the discussion in the comments or give me a follow on twitter @kiwigoonerhaz.
The voice of a dedicated Arsenal fan living all the way across the world in New Zealand… 3am wake ups to watch the beautiful game; coffee and a pen; heart break and euphoria; a lad with a dream of seeing the famous red and white in the flesh and back where they belong…
Football runs in the blood. Playing will always be the passion; whilst now working as a sports physiotherapist enables me to have constant access and inside insight into the goings on at club level.