You know the season is over when a manager begins to consider resting his players for an upcoming international tournament. That is exactly what Arsene Wenger has started to consider this week as we enter
the last 3 games of a trophyless season. I hope we set a marker down for next season with three wins and Derby are up first on Monday night.
It does make sense to send those called up for Euro 2008, to their national managers in as close to top condition as we can get them. National coaches are not prepared to rest their players when they are a little fatigued. They are judged on 5/6 games and there is no room for sentiment. If they feel their best players can play, they will play.
Sending any players half fit to such a competition can cause a knock on effect. The strain that football can put on the body means that injuries can develop simply from a slight lack of fitness. Wenger, therefore, wants to ensure he can send his players off in the summer in the best possible conditions. Any injury caused after this is just a case of bad luck.
The problem Wenger has is that the squad is paper thin as it is. This may well force his hand to give some youngsters a game in the run-in. The benefit with this comes with the desire a young player shows when he gets a chance. Chelsea have basically secured 2nd place today and therefore Wenger does not have to field his strongest side. It would also be understandable if a few players had run out of steam and lost a little bit of fight as the season ends in disappointment, again!
Below is the list of players unavailable to Wenger along with a few players Wenger may well want to rest ahead of the summer or due to tiredness:
Injured: Almunia, Sagna, Diaby, Rosicky, Eduardo
Rested?: Clichy, Gallas, Fabregas, Adebayor
So, what kind of team does that leave? Well, we know Fabianski will play in the last 3 games. That signals the end of Jens Lehmann’s Arsenal career. It is exciting in a way to usher in the new regime as we say goodbye to Mad Jens. There have been good moments, bad moments and some downright hilarious moments. We wish him well. Whether the squad do or not is another matter!
I, for one, have high hopes for Fabianski. from what I have seen he is a quality shot stopper and a good reader of the game. He may have a weakness when it comes to crosses but I am sure that can be worked on in the next few years. The best way for him to improve is match practice and it will be interesting to see how he does.
Justin Hoyte will probably get a chance at right back and I feel he still has a lot to prove. With the failure if Eboue as a right back, Wenger may consider moving the Ivorian to the back up full back to Bakary Sagna. He looked far better attacking from deep when he came on last weekend and this seems his natural position. Hoyte may be on his way out and has to prove to Wenger he should be no.2 right back.
Wenger may give Armand Traore more game time at left back. Traore has a lot to learn positioning wise and, similar to Fabianski, the best way to learn is through playing games. Clichy has played more League games than any other Arsenal player this season and deserves a rest.
At centre back I have in mind a defensive combination that i would like to see. Wenger went with Gallas and Song against Reading and I think it would be interesting to see how Song plays with Kolo. Toure and Gallas both like to play the same role and Song may well be able to be the man who attacks the first ball. Now is the time to test out some options and this is one we have not yet seen. Once Nordtveit returns from international duty I would like to see him with Toure also.
Moving into midfield and one thing is for sure. Theo Walcott deserves another game. If he does not start this game I will be baffled and pretty angry at Wenger also. His performance against Reading was arguably his best in an Arsenal shirt and he needs time to continue his blistering form. Wenger may ask him to play on the left with the suspension and injury of Hleb and Diaby respectively. Either way, he will cause problems on Monday night.
That means Eboue may start on the right but I would like to see Jack Wilshere get a game. Out of the three games left, the Derby game is the best to blood young players. Wenger watched Wilshere play for the reserves and command the game against West Ham. He set up one goal and made another. Wenger may keep him under wraps for a little longer to avoid pressure. The problem is, he may have the talent to be let loose now and one game to have a look is harmless.
One experiment for Wenger to consider is playing Traore at left midfield with Clichy behind him. Traore has played there for the reserves and if reports are to believed, has looked ok. I rate his attacking play highly; he can cross the ball in well, dribble past players and has a strong shot on him. He would mix up our play out wide and it might be worth a shot to see if it works.
In the centre Gilberto will play his third last game for the club. I highly doubt we will see him here next season, even if Flamini does not stay. His last few performances can not cover up a poor season for the Brazilian. Our midfield has become far tougher with a player like Flamini in it, we do not want to go back to our lightweight ‘invisible wall’.
Alongside him Wenger should give Denilson a game. His eduacation has been hindered by injury but he has shown enough talent to keep patience. Like Fabianski and Traore, he needs games. Fabregas also needs a rest and he is one player we do not want to risk with Euro 2008 coming up. We need him fit for next season and we want to send him away in peak condition in the hope he returns in the same state.
Emmanuel Adebayor is probably the next man to get a rest from the side, giving Nicklas Bendtner a chance to impress. Impress he must after a few lacklustre performances and seemingly little other than aerial ability. With the ovbious tension in the squad, Bendtner may be an unlucky scape goat unless he persuades Wenger quickly that he does not need to get on with the team as long as he produces the goals.
Robin Van Persie is an exception to players like Cesc, Clichy and Adebayor. He has just come back from injury and Wenger wants him back to his best. It will benefit Holland first, but then surely it will help us for next season if he has a strong end to the season and Euro 2008. We saw glimpses of the Van Persie we missed and it was clear to me we are far more dynamic going forward when he is in the side.
The team may shape us thus:
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Wilshere, Adebayor, Clichy
There should be no pressure on the players and this game may be a chance to express themselves. We best Derby 5-0 in the reverse fixture and if we can get the passing game going we may see a similar scoreline.
Next season starts with these next few games. We must set our stall out and go out with a bang. It shows teams that, although this season is done and dusted, next year we want success more than ever.