Many football fans look at the first team line-ups and naively judge them solely on what they see from the 11 names on the team sheet. However, if one does like to judge a team on paper before assessing them on the pitch, a football team’s quality and potential for success should be judged on their squad as a whole. Whether a team is chasing the Premier League title, wanting to challenge for Top 4 or even wanting to avoid the dreaded Premier League relegation, quality squad depth is essential for a successful Premier League campaign. The owners of a team may make a high quality first team for his club but if the team doesn’t have sufficient quality outside of the first XI, that team would struggle to be consistently successful through a Premier League campaign in my eyes.
11 players is nowhere near enough to withstand the physical demands of a Premier League season. A large squad with quality throughout is particularly essential for those teams who finished in the Top 6 last season (and Hull City), as they have to cope with European games on top of the domestic competitions in England i.e. Capital One Cup and the FA Cup. Even teams not in European competitions still have to play in the aforementioned domestic cup competitions, so I believe good squad depth is an indispensable part of a successful formula.
Why is it so crucial? Injuries are an inevitability. Last season Stoke suffered the least from injuries but still had to cope with 555 days worth of player injuries. In contrast Arsenal suffered the most with injuries to players which amounted to an incredible 1716 days of absence from action. When injuries are rife, the bench strength becomes incredibly important, as your second or third choice player in the position of the injured player may need to play in crunch games. Player absences may be for suspensions, bans or perhaps international competitions like the African Cup of Nations, but whatever the reason if you have confidence in the replacement of a first team player in the squad, you can be confident of doing well in a Premier League season. Likewise if you’re suspicious that the replacement may not be good enough for the Premier League, then your team in all probability will suffer in the absence of the first choice. It is clear to see from all the top European teams in World Football now, not taking transfer speculation into account or injuries, have widespread quality in their ranks which extend beyond their first team.
A prime example is Real Madrid. They have arguably the strongest line-up in the world with the additions of World Cup stars James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos. Even with the dream-team-like first XI, Real Madrid have a second team that has individuals who would walk into most teams in European football. It seems an injustice to call it a second team. If any of the first team players got injured, the replacements are of such quality that they wouldn’t weaken that much if at all with player absences. This is a model all top European teams should aspire to emulate in terms of widespread squad quality but unfortunately for most teams, they won’t be able to match up to the financial power of Los Blancos but still this should be the idealistic aim for most teams.
Let’s see how the top teams in England compare. The best squads in England often do end up winning the Premier League and the squads with mediocre reinforcements on their benches are often the ones being relegated, as simple as that.
Man for man, I think Chelsea have the strongest squad in the Premier League. With the additions of Costa, Courtois, Fabregas and F.Luis, Chelsea in my opinion have the best first team on paper with all departments looking potent. Even though the first team looks very strong, their second choice team shows that they have an incredible amount of quality squad depth. The 2 central-defenders in reserve may not be household names but Zouma and Ake are 2 of the most promising young centre backs in the country. They are are strong powerhouses, comfortable on the ball, and could walk into Chelsea’s team after the looming Terry retirement. Meanwhile the likes of Ivanovic and Cech possibly being second-string players seems an injustice as they are Chelsea veterans who have bossed the Premier League in the last few years and are still brilliant players in their own right. Ramires, Mikel and Van Ginkel are great players to have warming the bench, all 3 could slot in the team in Fabregas / Matic’s absence and wouldn’t weaken the team drastically. Drogba and Torres will provide Chelsea with strong options from the bench from a forward perspective. Schurrle has had a brilliant World Cup being an impact sub for Germany and Salah impressed late last season hence they both could have regular first-team action. However, the Chelsea squad has that much competition for places that they could be second-string / bench-warmers.
The squad which comes closest, perhaps just matching Chelsea for brilliant squad depth is reigning Premier League Champions Manchester City. City fans may disagree with the first XI and say that Kolarov should start ahead of Clichy, Dzeko / Jovetic ahead of Negredo or even Nastasic ahead of Demichelis. The fact that this sort of debate happens just shows the quality City have in their squad. The first team is obviously very strong as it is the team that made The Etihad a fortress on the way to winning Premier League title no.2. Nevertheless the signings of Malaga’s Willy Caballero, Fernando and Bacary Sagna have improved the squad depth considerably. Sagna could easily rotate with Zabeleta as he’s proven to be one of the most consistent right-backs in the league meanwhile Caballero was one of the stand out keepers outside of the top 3 in La Liga yet he’s set to be a back up to Joe Hart. Fernando, whilst not being a signing to wow masses of fans, he is a good, pragmatic back up to Yaya Toure / Fernandinho should they be injured even though their absence would be greatly missed. Dzeko, Navas and Milner saw plenty of first team action last season, Dzeko was City’s second top goalscorer of the season with 26 goals in all competitions and Jovetic has looked impressive whenever he has had game time. Hence with 4 quality strikers in their ranks and 2 wingers that would slip seamlessly into the first team in Nasri or Silva’s absence – City much like Chelsea have impressive squad depth which makes them serious title contenders again now with an even stronger squad.
Arsenal have made 4 good signings this summer, adding to a team that spent 128 days on the top of the table last season, they are the dark horses for the title this year. I think Alexis Sanchez is the signing of the summer, hence I think because of him Arsenal will be reinvigorated and mount another title challenge. The first team line up may look different in reality because of the plethora of midfielders at Arsenal’s disposal, making it difficult to guess what would consistently be a first choice XI. The Arsenal first XI does look very strong, the front 6 look like a potent combination. Quick wing-backs who are astute defensively, an ever improving goalie in Szczesny and a dependable centre-back duo make this Arsenal team look very strong on paper. If I was Arsene Wenger I’d be tempted to play Alexis Sanchez up front as a False 9 whilst playing someone like Oxlade-Chamberlain on the wing in place of Giroud – to make it one of the fastest front 3’s in the league that could be too hot for Premier League defences to handle. In terms of midfield options, I definitely believe Arsenal have the strongest squad depth in the league. Arsenal’s front 6 in their ‘second team’ can’t be classed as second-string at all, they all can interchange with the 6 in the first team as they are of such consistent quality. They have plenty of good attacking options not even on the ‘second team’ such as Joel Campbell who had a fantastic World Cup with Costa Rica, Serge Gnabry who showed great promise last summer and Yaya Sanogo who unbelievably scored 4 goals today vs Benfica. Chambers and Ospina make for strong back ups in the right-back and goalkeeping positions. However what maybe Arsenal’s downfall is because of the lack of quality in their other defensive positions. With Vermaelen seemingly heading for the exit door, Arsenal need another centre half or two to strengthen their squad to a level of the likes of Man City. Monreal doesn’t fill fans with confidence either as a potential replacement if a few of their first team defenders got injured so there is some work to do for Arsenal to be consistent force in the league and in Europe.
Looking at Manchester United’s squad exemplifies the desperate need for new additions. Man United characteristically have always had brilliant squad depth, a fundamental reason why they’ve achieved 13 Premier League titles. After the catastrophe of last season, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all have left the club and Giggs has hung up his playing playing boots. This of course left a hole in the squad that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. This first team may look different at the start of the season; Fletcher likely to be first choice centre mid following Carrick’s injury alongside Herrera and Young has been very impressive in the wing back position in pre-season, hence may become the automatic starter in that position ahead of Valencia or Shaw. The first team itself does look quite impressive with RVP, Rooney and Mata making up one of the best attacking 3 in the Premier League. Herrera and Shaw will add much needed pace and exuberance to a team which was lifeless at times last season. I think Herrera will be one of the surprises of the league and will impress greatly from central midfield as his passing distribution, tackling ability and speed coupled with his goal-scoring credentials will make him a real asset to the Premier League. I think the only department United are sufficiently strong in, is the attack, especially so because Van Gaal has made wingers into forwards. An attack supply of Van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck, Hernandez, Zaha, Nani, W.Keane and J. Wilson is full of world class talent and very talented youngsters. Unfortunately though, other departments are in serious need for reinforcements. One of the most striking weaknesses is the United defence. Only 3 recognised first team centre halves is concerning, but the concern isn’t necessarily because of lack of quality as all 3 have shown at times to be very capable defenders, it’s because all 3 are seriously injury-prone. Man United’s 2 back up centre backs are young and promising but I’m not sure if they could be top flight regulars just yet – therefore one or two high quality central defensive signings with some experience and maturity are a must this window for United to be competing for the title this season. The centre of midfield is another serious concern. With Carrick injured and Fellaini seemingly heading to Napoli, United have only 3 recognised options in Herrera, Fletcher and Cleverley. Kagawa is going to be converted into a “no.6 or no.8” in the words of Van Gaal to make it 4, but United are in clear need of a strong, powerful perhaps defensive-minded central midfielder. Therefore it is clear The Red Devils are in need of some quality reinforcements to get the squad back to the level of quality it needs to challenge for the title again.
With Liverpool, it’s quite a strange one analysing the quality of their squad depth because they’ve made several signings aimed at improving their squad and they have definitely improved the squad but the team still doesn’t look like it’s become much stronger at all. Liverpool’s team was left with a whirlpool of hole when Suarez departed that I feel hasn’t been filled adequately. The CB partner for Lovren isn’t set in stone and could be Agger, Skrtel or Sakho as none are stand out candidates, perhaps highlighting their weakness in that area. Lovren is an addition who will definitely shore up the defence and make it more solid which will be music to Liverpool fans’ ears as it was their defensive frailties which was a prime reason why they fell short of the title last year. Nevertheless I still don’t think the first team is as strong as the team that looked like genuine title-contenders throughout last season. Lallana is a quality signing, I rate him highly and believe he is the best signing Liverpool have made thus far and he will dazzle interchanging with Liverpool’s skilful attacking midfielders. The bottom line is though Lallana replaces Suarez in the first team and that in my eyes means the flood of goals scored last season will dry up massively. In Liverpool’s second string of players, I struggle to see masses of goals in the front 4. If I were a Liverpool fan, I’d be very worried that my team has Sturridge, Lambert and Borini as my strikers going into the Premier League season. The expectation on Sturridge’s shoulders to score goals will be massive and considering he is injury prone, and to have Lambert as the sole back-up would make most Liverpool fans anxious. Therefore it is clear, the position Liverpool need reinforcing most importantly is up front. They need to find a strike partner for Sturridge capable of scoring 20+ goals in the league every season because Suarez’s absence will hit Liverpool hard. I think Can and Allen are decent enough back ups to Gerrard and Henderson but I feel Liverpool are missing a Matic-like figure, an out-and-out ball-winner to give the midfield some steel. A better quality left back to compete with Enrique wouldn’t go amiss either, so all in all I think Liverpool still have some way go to compete at the very top of the league consistently again with a 4th place battle more likely.
Last season Manchester City by far had the strongest squad in the league and won the title for a second time. Chelsea’s squad lacked quality depth in the striker department leaving them to finish short of the top spot at times struggling to score in the crunch moments of the season i.e Sunderland at home and Palace away, 2 fixtures which cost Mourinho Premier League success again. This season however, Chelsea in my opinion have the strongest squad in the league with most departments covered. Whether they convert the squad depth into a title winning formula depends on how fast the new players gel and get accustomed to the Premier League. City and Arsenal are two teams that could certainly win it with the strength in depth they have too. United, I think are one or two signings away from a title-challenging team, but in saying that, if no further signings are made and United can keep the injury list small, Van Gaal’s teams can never be ruled out. His winning mentality driving a rejuvenated team means that cynics ruling out a United title win completely would be foolish. Liverpool are slightly short of a title-challenge team thus far, the team looks like it could be short of goals after Suarez’s departure, making signings a must in order to emulate last season’s push for success.
All in all, it is clear though, that a team which has widespread quality in it’s ranks beyond the first team can be confident of Premier League success.
By Hesham Bilal-Hafiz (@hesham786)
Tottenham Hotspur fans react to Danny Welbeck dive
Tottenham Hotspur fans were not pleased with Danny Welbeck’s dive v AC Milan.
Arsenal successfully knocked AC Milan out of the Europa League last night with a 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium. The hero of the night was England forward Danny Welbeck. The striker scored two goals as Arsenal completed a deserved 5-1 aggregate victory over the Rossoneri.
But Milan had taken an early lead through Hakan Calhanoglu’s bamboozling long-range strike. Arsenal, at that stage, were looking on the ropes. Welbeck though won and then dispatched a penalty to level the scoring. The word ‘won’ being the optimum word.
Welbeck dived for the penalty, there is no doubt about that. Ricardo Rodriguez barely breathed on the Arsenal man, who tumbled to the ground hopefully. When the penalty was given, he looked in disbelief.
For Tottenham Hotspur fans it was a moment they did not appreciate.
Spurs have seen Dele Alli victimised throughout the season, and some would say rightly so, for his diving. There is no doubt that the England midfielder has dived this season and not many Tottenham fans would suggest not.
But the anger here lies with what Tottenham fans believe is hypocrisy. There is also a certain level or irony given a thinly veiled dig by Arsene Wenger against Spurs’ players this season.
After the highly controversial 2-2 draw at Anfield, where Harry Kane was accused of diving v Liverpool, Wenger had this to say, as reported by the BBC:
“I remember there were tremendous cases here when foreign players did it.
“But English players have learned very quickly and might be the masters now.”
“Sometimes players play a little bit with the rules. How far can you go? That is down to the referees.”
With Arsenal their next Premier League opponents, Arsene Wenger’s barb was not hard to see.
When that statement came out Tottenham fans quickly pointed out occasions when Arsenal’s English stars had been caught diving. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott were prominent examples. Now, in Welbeck, Tottenham have seen another.
Arsenal fans will be happy that their team have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League. On balance it was more than a fair result as over two legs Arsenal outplayed the Italian giants.
But the Welbeck moment certainly put an asterix on the game for Spurs fans.
Here is some of the best reaction from Twitter…
Özil against Watford was falling down when a gust of wind went past him. It was appalling. Welbeck yesterday was one of the worst dives
— Joe B ??????? (@JblincoTHFC) March 16, 2018
Only just seen the Welbeck dive, he must be embarrassed even appealing for that.
— Joshhh (@JJonesTHFC) March 16, 2018
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
If you had any doubt about how this country treats Dele Alli (one of its brightest prospects in years) look at the difference in how the media and in particular fans, are talking about the #Welbeck dive. ? #COYS #THFC
— Gary Ford (@Spursfordie) March 15, 2018
Imagine if this was @dele_official who did this and the media onslaught! Danny Welbeck you diving cheat! Hope the likes of @talkSPORT @GaryLineker @alanshearer to name a few subject Danny to the same treatment they have subjected Dele too this season! https://t.co/MXFMAkOGcN
— H (@LittleMissTHFC) March 15, 2018
— Lucas (@MoughtTHFC) March 15, 2018
Welbeck is a cheat end of. Ruined a good game.
— THFC (@RaoullyT69) March 15, 2018
Look how everyone destroys Dele over diving. No one will comment on Welbeck’s dive. Shocking! #THFC
— Harry Hotspur (@HarryHotspurWHL) March 15, 2018
— Steve Williams (@spurssteve69) March 15, 2018
Welbeck dives. Dele will be in trouble in the morning. #THFC
— Stephen Vincent (@StevieV14) March 15, 2018
If Dele Alli did what Welbeck just did?
— Billy Adams (@ThfcAdams) March 15, 2018
Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?
Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.
Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.
They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.
These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.
Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.
In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.
The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.
Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.
Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.
Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.
The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.
Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.
It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.
When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.
If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.
There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.
Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.
It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.
It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.
Brighton 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Amex
Arsenal lost for a fourth successive game as Brighton & Hove Albion bullied their opponents into submission.
Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions as Brighton & Hove Albion took a giant leap towards Premier League survival.
The pressure on Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, which has intensified since the turn of the year, looks set to reach new heights after another dismal day at the office for his charges.
Goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray put the Seagulls in control before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half-time.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Arsenal were unable to muster an equaliser.
For Brighton, this was a huge result that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.
Here are three talking points…
Is beleaguered Wenger’s position now untenable?
It lurches from one disaster to another for Wenger.
He probably thought the nadir had been reached after last weekend’s limp performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, when his future became the main topic of debate.
The Frenchman would have hoped for a reaction from his players in the subsequent fixtures.
Instead, his side were brushed aside against City in the Premier League before producing another sub-standard display here against Brighton.
Added to their shock Europa League reversal at home to minnows Ostersunds, it is the first time Arsenal have lost four successive matches since 2002.
After last season’s FA Cup triumph, Wenger penned a new contract that takes him through to the summer of 2019.
Now, however, it’s difficult to see how he can last beyond the end of the current campaign.
Perhaps only by lifting the Europa League, which would automatically qualify Arsenal for the Champions League, could Wenger realistically remain in situ.
Even then, it may not be enough. His players look devoid of any confidence and need an injection of new ideas.
Brighton take a massive step towards safety
The focus will understandably be on Arsenal, but Brighton’s display should not be overlooked.
This victory extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to four games and has all but banished thoughts that they might be dragged into a relegation scrap.
Yes, it was a good time to face Arsenal, but Chris Hughton’s side made a fast start with two early goals that went a long way to recording their first win over the Gunners since 1982.
Brighton’s performance bore all the hallmarks of their season so far.
Despite being one of the lowest scorers in the division, they took their chances when they came, exploiting Arsenal’s weakness from set pieces and aerial balls.
In the second half, the home side remained very organised defensively, which was key when the Gunners upped the tempo.
Modest and unassuming, Hughton has done a terrific job on the south coast.
Defensive shortcomings continue to haunt Arsenal
Wenger has regularly spoken of his belief that Arsenal cannot compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester City.
And while his side’s record against fellow ‘Big Six’ clubs is regularly scrutinised, the Gunners’ results against the lesser lights have not been good enough for a club with Champions League aspirations.
In 2018 alone, Arsenal have been beaten by Swansea City, Bournemouth and now Brighton in the Premier League, while losing to Nottingham Forest and Ostersunds in cups.
A lack of leadership has long been an issue on the pitch and it’s an area Wenger has consistently ignored.
Defensively, the Gunners are too easy to bully.
Take Shkodran Mustafi’s defending for the first goal in the Carabao Cup final last weekend, for example.
Particularly away from home, Arsenal are prone to imploding.
Despite the attacking talent Wenger has at his disposal, his failure to invest in proven defenders at the top level looks set to cost him dearly.
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