Whilst watching yesterday’s match between
Wimbledon MK Dons AFC Wimbledon and Liverpool, the commentator mentioned that it would be Kolo Toure’s last game for Liverpool before joining up with the Ivory Coast for the African Cup of Nations. This got me thinking what affect the bi-annual tournament will have on Arsenal this year.
Previous years, the African Cup of Nations has derailed our season, with us providing players in every tournament since 2000, peaking at 4 in 2006.
2015 will be the first time in 9 tournaments that Arsenal have not sent a player to the African Cup of Nations:
I believe that the dwindling amount of African players in the Arsenal squad is a deliberate policy by Arsene Wenger to reduce the chances of our season derailing.
When a player go’s off to represent his country in the African Cup of Nations, you basically have to write that player off for 3 months.
He misses January and February due to the tournament himself and, if he returns home on time (they often don’t), they return with an inadequate fitness level unsuitable for the Premier League. It then takes a month for the player to get back up to speed, lose the bit of weight they all seem to put on, and be ready to perform again. It is then April.
Kolo Toure was always a great example of this. A fairly natural big frame, he often returned from the African Cup of Nations overweight. I also believe that it was the African Cup of Nations that ruined Gervinho’s career at Arsenal.
The Ivorian was just beginning to find his feet in England, having been sent off on debut. Having grabbed himself a couple of goals in December, his last game before leaving for the 2012 African Cup of Nations was against Fulham on January 2nd. After 4 goals in the 1st half of the season, he failed to score again, returning back from Equatorial Guinea and Gabon unfit and out of form.
Usually the African Cup of Nations is held every 2 years. The confederation had decided to move it from even years to odd years, to avoid a clash with he World Cup. This mean another tournament in 2013, so within 18 months of joining Arsenal, Gervinho had been to Africa twice, effectively losing 6 months of his Arsenal career.
2012/13 went the same way for Gervinho as 2011/12 did. A good start to the season, followed by a trip to Africa (This time South Africa), returning and doing nothing for Arsenal.
After the 2013 African Cup of Nations, Gervinho only played an additional 5 Premier League games. He was then sold to Roma.
The African Cup of Nations is a horrible tournament for clubs. To lose players for 3 months every 2 years can be a big blow and ruin any title challenge. It has resulted in less African players in the Premier League than their were 10 years ago, with clubs only buying players good enough for the 1st team, rather than snapping up a squad player on the cheap who you then lose at a key moment of the season.
The African Cup of Nations is the reason why I honestly believe that Chuba Akpom and Semi Ajayi will leave Arsenal if they decide to represent Nigeria rather than England.
So what affect will this years African Cup of Nations have on Arsenal?
Between now and the end of February, we play: Stoke, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Leicester and Crystal Palace. Between them they are without 6 players – mostly key ones such as Yaya Toure and Yannick Bolasie.
The teams around us in the race for 4th – West Ham & Southampton and West Ham will also lose players – 2 a piece.
So Arsenal will have a clear advantage over the next few months over these teams. Interestingly, Chelsea and Manchester United, like Arsenal, have no representatives in Africa. Further proof of the move away by English clubs from signing African players.
Another advantage is in the Champions League. Monaco have 2 players going to Equatorial Guinea.
Below is a full list of players from the Premier League going to Africa:
Yannick Bolasie – DR Congo
Christian Atsu – Ghana
Riyad Mahrez – Algeria
Jeff Schlupp – Ghana
Kolo Toure – Ivory Coast
Yaya Toure – Ivory Coast
Papis Cisse – Senegal
Cheick Tiote – Ivory Coast
Emmanuel Mayuka – Zambia
Sadio Mane – Senegal (Potentially injured)
Mame Biram Diouf – Senegal
Wilfried Bony – Ivory Coast
Nabil Bentaleb – Algeria
Youssouf Mulumbu – DR Congo
Cheikhou Kouyate – Senegal
Diafra Sakho – Senegal
As a final note, Wilfried Bony is being linked away from Swansea in January. Why would anyone buy him now when he will not be available until March?