Speaking after yesterday’s loss to Sheffield Wednesday, former Arsenal player Paul Merson expressed his opinion that the more experienced players were to blame for the defeat rather than the debutants and younger players (via the Daily Star). With the League Cup being a low priority contest for the Gunners, manager Arsene Wenger handed debuts to Glen Kamara, Krystian Bielik, Ismael Bennacer, and Alex Iwobi over the course of the game. In addition, players like Joel Campbell and Calum Chambers received an opportunity to showcase their skills and possibly demand more playing time.
Based on the performances however, none of them will be featuring for the Arsenal first team anytime soon. While the debutants can be excused somewhat for their performances (remember Bellerin’s torrid debut? Although that was admittedly against Borussia Dortmund) there was still a disappointing lack of the ‘Arsenal way’ of play. We had 71% of the possession, yes, but spent a distressingly large amount of time back – and side – passing the ball. Even the manager thought so, admitting the youngsters weren’t ready yet.
“The level was too high for them. They are not ready to play at this level. None of them are ready,” he said (via the Daily Star).
Merson however, thinks that the result was more down to the senior players failing to provide a standard for the youngsters to live up to. For players as experienced as Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud for example, you would expect them to step up and show the newbies how it’s done. That failed to happen however, and the ‘senior’ members were often nowhere to be found.
Speaking to Sky Sports (via the Daily Star), Merson said, “I thought it [Wenger’s comments] was a bit strong. I think he should be looking more at his seasoned pros. The more experienced players let the young kids down.
“They are making their debuts in an away game in front of 30,000 people. It’s a very difficult game. When I started my career I needed the older players to help me through it. It doesn’t matter how good players are or how good you are going to be, you need players helping you through.
“The four or five older pros out there wouldn’t get four out of 10 so what chance have the youngsters got? I feel sorry for them.”
While Merson’s points are valid when considering players like Bielik and Kamara, who will eventually go out on loan and gain valuable match experience, they cannot be used to justify the performances of players like Campbell, Chambers or Kieran Gibbs. The more ‘senior’ players are guaranteed their places and perhaps lacked the motivation to perform yesterday, but nothing justifies a fringe player not taking the opportunities provided in a game like this.
With Aaron Ramsey injured (via Arsenal.com) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain potentially facing a spell on the sidelines as well, you would have expected Campbell to do a lot more in order to send a message to the manager. Similarly, considering that Mathieu Debuchy and Gibbs have only one player between them and a first team berth, they seem horribly demotivated and uninterested in staking their claim to a starting spot. This is not at all healthy for a club that wants to stay in the running for a title challenge, and Wenger perhaps needs to consider a personnel change in January to bring some life onto the bench.