The Boot Room EPL Focus- Top 7’s Bench of 7 (Part 2 of 2)
Arsenal’s Bench: L. Fabianski; T. Vermaelen, N. Monreal; A. Diaby, A. Ramsey; T. Rosicky, A. Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Numbers-wise, Arsene Wenger will have to be worried, as he has the least number of players to choose from for his bench compared to the other top 7 teams. Quality-wise, too, his Arsenal side is probably the weakest of the top 4, and one of the weaker benches compared to the top 7. His back-up number one, Lukasz Fabianski, does not inspire confidence, but is a solid goalkeeper to come on, with first-choice ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny always an error away from a severe drop in form.
After Johan Djourou left the club on loan, captain Thomas Vermaelen is their only senior back-up centre-back, leaving the central defence an injury away from a season-wrecking crisis for Wenger. At full-back, the boss will be relieved to know he has competition, with Nacho Monreal providing a solid rotation option for Kieran Gibbs, while Carl Jenkinson continues his footballing education behind the erratic Bacary Sagna. Monreal, with greater pedigree and experience, will definitely be ahead of Jenkinson on the bench, and probably very close to Gibbs as Wenger’s first-choice left-back.
In midfield, injury-prone Abou Diaby brings a different dimension to the team, allowing for more brute strength when need be. Aaron Ramsey isn’t far from the first-team too, but will always be considered second-rate whenever England wonder boy Jack Wilshere is fully fit. Tomas Rosicky is there probably because there is little else to choose from, though could be usurped by new signing Yaya Sanogo should the former Ligue 2 striker take his chances to impress. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will provide a stern challenge for a first-team slot, but will definitely be assured of a place on the bench.
Wenger is yet to really expand his first-team squad, and it is worrying considering how close he is to needing to put the young guns like Serge Gnarby and Chuba Akpom on the bench should an injury crisis hit. I bet he will not put his faith on Nicklas Bendtner or Park Chu-Young in any case.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Bench: B. Friedel; Y. Kaboul, K. Naughton; S. Parker, N. Chadli; E. Adebayor, J. Defoe.
Considering Andre Vilas-Boas manages to keep Gareth Bale at the club, he will have a nice headache when it comes to picking the bench from a presumably fully fit squad. In goal, Brad Friedel, coming into his fifth decade, will still be a very reliable custodian to call upon should last season’s best ‘keeper Hugo Lloris fall to injury. However, like Wenger, Vilas-Boas will have a problem in central defence should he fail to sign a fourth centre-back after the sale of Steven Caulker to Cardiff City. Only Younes Kaboul can be seen as a reliable back-up centre-back. With Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s attitude doing him no favour while Danny Rose continues impress at left-back, it seems the fleet-footed and versatile Kyle Naughton is a shoe-in for the back-up specialist full-back.
Slightly higher up the pitch, the Spurs boss will have at least 3 central midfielders fighting for one spot on the bench (with Tom Huddlestone’s future in doubt). Scott Parker will ideally triumph over Jake Livermore and Tom Carroll for this, merely because of his vast experience. New signing Nacer Chadli will no doubt get his chance, albeit initially from the bench. This will leave fellow wide-men Lewis Holtby and Andros Townsend disappointed, hoping for an injury or loss of form elsewhere.
Villas-Boas would want two different types of back-up strikers in Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermaine Defoe. Gylfi Sigurdsson could be another option, while Harry Kane will be knocking on the door for cup games. Spurs arguably have the strongest bench outside the top 4, and if Villas-Boas plays his cards right, especially with game-changing substitutions, he could finally force Spurs into the Champions League.
Everton’s Bench: J. Robles; A. Alcaraz, J. Heitinga; R. Barkley, S. Naismith; G. Deulofeu, N. Jelavic.
New manager Roberto Martinez wasted no time in bringing in competition for Tim Howard with the signing of his former Wigan charge Joel Robles. The Spanish U21 goalkeeper will keep the American international on his toes, and provide decent cover for the number one spot. Another player who was under Martinez at Wigan, Antolin Alcaraz, will provide good competition for first-choice pairing Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka; displacing the latter two will prove to be one heck of a task for Alcaraz. Due to his positional flexibility, Johnny Heitinga will probably get his place on the bench ahead of Tony Hibbert.
Evertonian Ross Barkley’s season could be a career-defining one. His spot on the bench is more or less secured, but what he really needs to do is show he can hold the midfield like how Leon Osman currently does, or that he can drive the team forward effectively in Marouane Fellaini’s place. Steven Naismith gives Martinez a different offensive dimension and will shore up Everton’s flanks when required.
Nikica Jelavic’s poor showing last season will push striker Arouna Kone, yet another man who played under Martinez, to the first eleven, especially as Kone impressed with 11 goals last campaign during Wigan’s relegation. Jelavic own relegation to back-up striker will only push him to rediscover his goalscoring touch during the first 6 months of 2012. Loaned from Barcelona, Gerard Deulofeu should seem to be the choice for the last spot on the bench, just ahead of Victor Anichebe and Magaye Gueye.
Martinez has certainly improved Everton’s squad with several of Wigan’s bright lights of last season. The Everton bench look stronger than ever; however should star men Leighton Baines and Fellaini leave, Everton’s overall squad could start looking light again as supposed back-ups get promoted to the first eleven.
Liverpool’s Bench: B. Jones; A. Wisdom, M. Skrtel; J. Henderson, J. Ibe; F. Borini, I. Aspas
There’s no change for Brad Jones even as the revolving door at Anfield saw Jose Reina depart on loan and Simon Mignolet brought in as his replacement, with Jones still the undisputed number two. The Australian goalkeeper can be prone to errors and showed his vulnerabilities last season during the Oldham defeat. Probably the weakest back-up ‘keeper amongst the top 7.
Martin Skrtel will be secured of third-choice centre-back status should he stick around at Anfield, meaning Sebastian Coates will continue to scrap for a first-team opportunities. Andre Wisdom’s good form at the start of last season will push him ahead of Martin Kelly in the pecking order, as the latter continues his return from long-term injury. Wisdom can also count in his favour the fact he has played centre-back during pre-season.
Jordan Henderson’s form in the second half of last season will also elevate him to back-up to Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard, while the boss’ favourite Joe Allen will have to find another spot on the bench, alongside Henderson. With Stewart Downing’s departure to West Ham and Oussama Assaidi probably leaving on loan, this opens up the opportunity for Jordan Ibe to build on his debut against QPR in the final game of last season. Ibe will get more chances off the bench, and should he impress the way Raheem Sterling did last season, Ibe will see much action this campaign. However, Ibe will face much competition from new signing Luis Alberto, who will provide a different, more silky dimension to Rodgers’ attacking third.
Fabio Borini, capable of playing on the wing or as a centre forward, will have to take his chances from the bench to stand any chance of having a long-term career at Anfield. Rodgers will place some faith in him, definitely ensuring Borini a place on the bench, but should the Italian continue to misfire like last season, Alberto or Allen will be eyeing his place with much intent. Fellow Spanish new signing Iago Aspas can also play out wide on the right or as a central striker, will provide competition and cover for Daniel Sturridge.
Rodgers, like Wenger, will hope to add more to his squad, or first eleven. His bench is still lacking a bit of quality here and there, and a marquee name is really needed so the likes of Sterling can be considered more of a squad player to a first choice, giving the young Englishman time and space to grow and develop as well.
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