Arsenal set for fixture congestion as they face 3 games in a week was an elongated headline I read before Monday’s game against WBA.
Whilst 3 games in a week is tough, it is not an excuse for any lack of performance.
The hit grabbing media – who will write anything to get that advertising revenue – have gone in hard on the fact that Arsenal faced WBA, then have a 10,000 mile trip to some backwards Eastern European country, before facing Brighton at noon on Sunday.
Admittedly, the fixture list could have been a lot kinder to Arsenal.
We could have played against WBA on Saturday – although this would have still lead to 3 game sin a week with Chelsea (Sunday), Doncaster (Wednesday) & WBA (Saturday). And we could have faced Brighton at 4pm rather than noon (the extra 4 hours are oh so important).
But 3 games a week is not new to a side like Arsenal. Any team who has played European football consistently over the last 2 decades would have got used to playing 3 games in week.
A Premier League fixture on a Sunday, fly out to a Champions League fixture on Wednesday, before playing again in the Premier League on a Saturday. 3 games in a week is often the norm for top sides.
Arsene Wenger has long been a critic of the way the Premier League allow TV companies to dictate the fixture list, damaging the chances of English team’s performing well in Europe. Why do they allow Sky or BT Sports to schedule a game on a Sunday when that side is playing in Europe mid week? The extra days rest would be massively advantageous. Especially for away ties in the knock out stages.
Other countries do it. When Port won the Champions League in 2004, the Portuguese FA postponed weekend games before a Champions League tie to enable them to gain from extra preparation. Often when we have played Barcelona, Bayern Munich or PSG, or opponents have had the advantage of 1 day’s extra rest.
A lot is being made about Arsenal playing thrice in a week, but it is a story of nothing, unless people actually want to talk about the bigger picture of how regular this happens.
Arsenal can actually thank their lucky stars that the fixtures either side of the Europa League tie in Belarus are at home, against relatively easy clubs. Brighton and WBA.
In years gone past, we have travelled to Sunderland on a Sunday, had an away game against Barcelona, before travelling to Liverpool the next Saturday for a 1pm kick off. 3 away games on the spin against some difficult sides (OK, Sunderland are not difficult but it is a horrid journey).
If we were in the Champions League, we would be looking to put out our strongest XI for all 3 games. As it is only BATE Borisov in the Europa League (I say only – we will probably lose), we can play a fully changed XI.
Any player involved against WBA, and any player expected to be in the match day squad against Brighton, should be left at home. Even if this means us playing an inexperienced, young team, the fact is the Brighton match is more important.
Leave the 18 players expected to play against Brighton at home. Do not subject them to a 5 hour flight plus all the additional travelling to and from the airports – the time difference is not an issue; it is 2 hours. Let the senior players forget about the game. Have them training with the just the Brighton game in mind. Split the squad into two for the week.
Today will be a rest day for those who played yesterday anyway. Massages and Jacuzzis. With the team set to fly out to Minsk tomorrow, the two squads will barely see eachother anyway.
And of course, Arsenal will take a chartered flight back from Belarus. Landing back in London at about 6am Friday morning. All those on the flight will be given the day off, before rejoining the squad on Saturday for the Brighton game.
These international superstars, who are often used to flying around the world for their country, are used to it.
Recently Chris Gayle spoke about T20 cricket. He said players are used to landing in the city they are playing, heading to the hotel for a nap, before playing the next day then flying out again. They get used to it. Footballers are similar.
These days when sides have squads of 25 internationals, all on millions of pounds a year, any player should be able to step up and perform.
3 games in a week is the norm for Arsenal. It has happened countless times over the last 20 years. It is no excuse.