Pep’s playing with a stacked deck, but Arsenal “bottled” it? Okay…


All season long, pundits have talked about Arsenal’s precarious position atop the Prem and how it would only be a matter of time before the best, deepest, most-expensive, and most-experienced squad in the history of manking would inevitably overtake them and resume their own rightful place. Now that this is on the verge of happening, Arsenal are somehow guilty of bottling it. Those pundits can’t really have it both ways, but when has that stopped them?

Such is the depth that Pep has at his disposal that only four players—Ederson, Rodri, Haaland, and De Bruyne—have made more than 25 starts. Had a bad dream? Rest. Clip a toenail too close to the quick? Rest. Suffering existential angst? Rest. Had a dodgy kebab? Rest. And so on. Those 71 different lineups mean that no one has to suffer fatigue, get exposed to injury, accumulate yellow cards…

Added together, Man City’s players have missed a grand total of 49 Prem matches to date. This, despite advancing to the League Cup quarterfinal (three matches), progressing to the Champions League quarterfinal (nine matches to date), progressing to the FA Cup semifinal (four matches to date), and, of course, those 30 Prem matches for a grand total of 46 matches played. So far.

By contrast, we over here at Arsenal have seen players miss more than twice as many matches—117—wihle playing far fewer matches: eight Europa League matches, one League Cup match, two FA Cup matches, and 31 Prem matches for a total of 42. Arteta has had to rely on a core of eight players who have made more than 25 starts: Ramsdale, White, Saka, Magalhaes, Martinelli, Xhaka, Odegaard, and Saliba. At a risk of insulting the remaining players in the squad, there just aren’t enough players for Arteta to turn to when someone goes down, and this means that key players log heavy minutes, exposing them to injuries, fatigue, ennui…

Is it any accident that our plucky little campaign has run aground in recent weeks? While we no longer have the fixture congestion of our rivals, we’ve gone weeks if not months without Tomiyasu, Saliba, Smith-Rowe, and Elneny. Jesus missed a third of the season. Zinchenko was rested against West Ham. Even a back-bencher like Nketiah has missed numerous matches. At the other end, Man CIty are—surprise!—fully fit, injury-free, and charging into the run-in without any qualms, niggles, or existential crises.

Tell me then how Arsenal have “bottled” it while having to rely on a core group of eight players who have logged more than 2,500 Prem minute (not to mention the other competitions) while Man City have just one player who’s logged more than 2,500—Ederson. They’re all as fresh as daisies while our players might feel like they’re pushin’ up daisies.

If we do fail to win the Prem, it won’t be because we somehow bottled it. It won’t be because Arteta’s substitutions came at the wrong times or sent on the wrong players. In the end, if Man City do what they’ve done for the last five seasons, it’ll be because Pep has at his disposal an XI chock-full of world-class talent, a bench that could on its own finish in the top four, world-class physios, trainers, masseurs, dieticians, and on and an ad infinitum.

It might be nice if someone did something about those 113 charges of financial wrongdoing in the next few weeks. Somehow, I doubt it. Pep’s been playing with a stacked deck for quite some time now, and it might also be possible that he’s been dealing from the bottom of the deck as well. All the while, he’s playing with house money.

This whole time, we’ve been fighting against all odds to get to and stay where we are. If anything, it’s a miracle that we ever got to this point, much less stayed there as long as we have. Our rivals are not merely another squad of mortals; they’re more like a force of nature like gravity, E=MC2, or Thanos in possession of all of the Infinity Stones. Strike that: Pep is Thanos with all of the Infinity Stones and a backup set of Almost-Infinity Stones.

What can anyone do in the face of such wanton destruction? We’ve stood up against it bravely for thirty-odd matchdays. If we can find a way to stand firm for just seven more matches, we’ll sip from ambrosia so sweet that the pantheon of Greek gods themselves will look upon us enviously.

One last note before you go: you can enter a raffle for a £25 Arsenal Direct gift card by commenting on this and other posts in April. Yes, it’s a direct attempt at bribing you to join the conversation. The more often you comment, the better your chances at winning. Have at it!

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7 thoughts on “Pep’s playing with a stacked deck, but Arsenal “bottled” it? Okay…

  1. palladio43

    A worthy analysis, but is it just about having money and lots of it? Is it possible that our squad is rife with players more injury prone than those at City? Could it be that our bench is somewhat more redundant at some positions than others and when absences occur, we are still thin, as a result?
    Assuming City is guilty of all those infractions, are we the only ones crying foul or are the others equally guilty and keeping my?

    1. palladio43

      Sorry for getting cut off….last sentence was….keeping mum?
      Also, is the difference a result of finding a way to mix up the lineup and still win while keeping everyone fresh versus overdependence at times on the same few? Do we blame our owner for a reluctance to spend, our trainers for too many injuries, Edu for not finding more capable players, or a difference in maturity between the squads?
      For all those recent matches we have managed to draw, we also have those last second wins that have kept us at the top. Over the course of a season, things manage to even out and maybe that is what we are actually seeing and experiencing. If the football gods want to see Arsenal win this year, they still have time to strike City down. If it is only about which of the uber-wealthy are willing to overspend, then Stan has the funds as much as several of the others and can do as much as they have or can. We bragged all year that we have achieved or over-achieved with fewer funds, now it seems this comparison of squad depth and durability speaks of bemoaning the fact that money does make the difference. I think it does, but it is not the only factor.

      1. Jon Shay Post author

        Interesting response. You can see the dropoff in quality from our XI to the bench, especially when I’m caught lamenting the injuries to the likes of Elneny and Nketiah. Chelsea are showing that simply spending bucketloads is not a strategy. Man City have stuck to a plan from top to bottom, buying not just the best players but also hiring backroom staff, assistants, trainers,groundskeepers, etc.

        It’s possible that certain players of ours might be more prone to injury, but logging heavy minutes increases the odds & the risk to even the healthiest players. When we crashed out of the FA Cup and Europa League, it was largely seen as a blessing as it cleared the deck of those half-dozen or so matches.

        I think the recruitment and spending have been solid, but it takes time to find and acquire the players needed. Finishing 8th, 8th, and 5th make it harder. Winning the Prem would give us a big boost to attract more of the kind of players this summer whom we’ll need to build on this season.

  2. Ukesox

    A very well reasoned assessment.
    You also have to look at the recent history & process to see why City have become so dominant. Pep has not only been building & fashioning the squad for 7 seasons but he had inherited a much stronger “legacy” at the club to start with in terms of squad. He’s undoubtedly a visionary but the foundations were solid & had been established well before he arrived. Arteta by comparison has only been in charge for 3 seasons & inherited a club that was in serious decline with a fractured squad (of mostly average players) needing radical surgery & a complete rebuild. What Arteta has achieved at AFC this season has been astonishing.

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      Indeed. People seem to forget that Man City were already a juggernaut before Pep’s arrival, having won the Prem twice and finished second twice, featuring players like Kompany, Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure, and others. Pep inherited a fully functional, already-dominant squad and added to it. As you point out, Arteta has in the span of three seasons completely remade the club from top to bottom. The process isn’t finished yet, but the progress has been, in your word, astonishing. It’s a shame that so many people have been spoilt by this early bloom or by the belief that success should be complete & immediate.

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