I am going to start by saying something a little bit controversial. A little bit OTT. A little bit extreme.
Francis Coquelin, Joel Campbell, Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi are not good enough to be regular starters for Arsenal.
Now before you spit your coffee out, start writing angry Tweets, or stop reading, please suppress your thoughts that I am stupid and read on. Listen to my rational. Understand the point of the blog.
I am not saying that they are poor players. Nor am I ignoring their contribution to Arsenal over the last 18 months or so. But let us be honest, they are not top players. They are not going to win you the league.
But they have all at some point over the last 18 months become fan favourites. Putting in some exceptional performances. Playing well. Cheered on by the fans with everything they do.
And that is where they have become important to the side. All 4 have bought a freshness to the squad that was lacking after a transfer policy which has seen us sign just 2 outfield senior players in 3 transfer windows.
The squad always needs to remain fresh. When staleness creeps in, it creates apathy in the terraces. Fans get on players backs more. They turn nasty as they become bored of seeing the same old errors.
Yesterday Theo Walcott came on. His first pass was misplaced. And the groans that followed were to be expected. I thought of this blog at that point.
Had it been Alex Iwobi miss placing that pass, it would not have got the reaction from the crowd that Walcott’s error did. As he is fresh. He has the backing of the fans.
Let’s start with Francis Coquelin.
He has become an important player in the side. In 18 months he has gone from Charlton loanee to potential future captain. Amazing progress. They should make a film about him.
But what Coquelin gave us 18 months ago was a freshness. Since 2013 we had been screaming out for a midfield enforcer. We went and signed Mathieu Flamini on a free. He screams a lot, he shouts a lot, he runs around a lot, but frankly, he is a poor player.
And Mikel Arteta. He did a job when he came to the club, but his lack of mobility had become frustrating for many. He has been past his sell by date for 2 years.
And then Coquelin broke through 18 months ago. He has performed well. But the biggest thing in his favour was that he was not Flamini or Arteta.
He could miss place passes like Flamini, or let players run away from him like Arteta. But he was not Flamini or Arteta. He showed what Arsenal had been missing since Flamini left on a free to AC Milan a few years earlier. A defensive midfielder who knew his role.
The rise of Coquelin just further highlights the error in judgement of not having a decent defensive midfielder. And personally, I believe we can improve further on Coquelin.
We then come to Joel Campbell. Get out whilst you can Joel seems to long away now. He is another who in a short period of time has become a fans favourite. Even though his actually contribution has been not much. 4 goals in 28 games this season.
But Joel Campbell has something in his favour. He is neither Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
We had become bored of Theo Walcott going missing in games. Of Oxlade-Chamberlain running down a blind alley. It had become boring. It had become predictable. Campbell is not as good as either of these two players, and does not contribute too much more, but he is different to them, as fans are not yet bored of him.
Campbell runs down as many blind alleys as Oxlade-Chamberlain. He go’s missing for periods of the game like Walcott. But due to not being either of them, his efforts are applauded. Rather than a groan as the Ox gets tackled after trying to take on a 4th man rather than pass, Campbell is applauded for trying.
And over the years, how bored have we become of the ever so predictable Aaron Ramsey. The back heels. The miss placed passes. Even before Elneny’s recent game time, the likes of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla were favoured by fans for bringing the freshness to the staleness of Aaron Ramsey.
Elneny is not as good as Ramsey. But he is fresh. As a fan, you accept his miss placed pass. Or the odd poor back heel. As he has not done it 100s of times previously in an Arsenal shirt.
Finally we come to Alex Iwobi. A breath of fresh air. 2 goals in his last 2 games. He is in the same bracket as Joel Campbell. His success if further exageratted due to not being Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott.
Think about yesterday. He scored and he assisted. Many would have him as man of the match. Theo Walcott also scored (albeit a lesser important 4th goal rather than Iwobi’s 2nd). A Walcott goal gets less of an excitable reaction than an Iwobi one.
Iwobi is benefiting, like Coquelin, Elneny and Campbell before him due to being fresh.
Keeping the squad fresh is important. not just to stop training going stale, and keep everyone on their toes, but for the fans too.
The excitement that the fans generate when a new player is about to be substituted on is transmitted to the players. Seeing Iwobi or Campbell coming off the bench provides that excitment. Even Danny Welbeck coming in still does.
You compare that to the groans when the likes of Walcott or Giroud comes on. It is groans. Half hearted applauding. And people very quick to get on their back. Giroud had been on the pitch for 30 seconds yesterday when the bloke behind me was already on his back with his usual “You’re fat lazy and useless Giroud. Chase the ball”. Whilst it is unjustifiable abuse yesterday, it comes from weeks, months and years of apathy. Of seeing the same players making the same mistakes, putting in the same sort of tepid performances time and again.
A key part of our unbeaten season in 2004 was a January signing.
Arsenal spent £10.5m (then reported as £17m+) on a 20 year old Spaniard. Jose Antonio-Reyes.
I remember the excitement when he joined. The excitement in the crowd when he was warming up. The cheering blowing the roof of the old North Bank when he would come on.
Reyes was a breath of fresh air in 2004. Helped by his two goals against Chelsea to knock them out of the FA Cup, he became a key part of the unbeaten run, even if he did not actually contribute that much in his 13 league games (7 starts, 2 goals). Reyes was fresh, and enabled us to remain excited about the season, rather than things going stale.
And this is what Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi & Campbell has provided recently. Bar Coquelin, none of them are better than the players they have replaced, but they are fresher than said players. The crowd give them a bit more time, allowing them to express themselves without that fear.
I remember many years ago when England were rubbish at cricket. In 2005 England had not won an Ashes series for 18 years. And then we went and won against Australia.
One of the key reasons often stated for the success of England that series is the lack of players who had Ashes experience. Only 5 of the 13 men who played had ever previously played against Australia. That meant that only 5 were mentally scarred from previous Ashes defeats. The 8 that had come into the squad were fresh. They were fearless. And England went on to win.
Teams need to be continually freshened up. Arsenal’s lack of transfer activity over the last 3 windows meant that the squad was stale. Everyone was bored of the mistakes from the likes of Giroud, Ramsey, Walcott & Flamini. There has been apathy a plenty.
Whilst I do not think Coquelin, Elneny, Campbell or Iwobi are top draw players, they are fresh players. And that is what is important.
To be successful, you need to keep things fresh.