An oft-debated question over the past two-plus seasons at Arsenal has been whether the players, the coaching, vastly improved competition, or something else has been primarily responsible for the Gunners tumble down the table. As with all “what is to blame” questions, the correct answer is some combination of all those factors. But the transfer window just opened, the Euros are about to start, and everyone is talking about players. So we’ll follow suit.
Buckle up because it isn’t pretty. The current Arsenal roster isn’t very good.
The Gunners have just 4 players heading to Euro 2020: Bernd Leno, Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney, and Bukayo Saka. And with Granit Xhaka likely on his way to Roma, that number dwindles to 3. That’s the fewest Arsenal players at a Euro since 1996, when the club also sent 4 (David Seaman, Tony Adams, David Platt, and Dennis Bergkamp). For comparison:
- Euro 2016, 8: Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Héctor Bellerín, Petr Cech, Tomáš Rosický
- Euro 2012, 8: Wojciech Szczęsny, Andrey Arshavin, Tomáš Rosický, Robin van Persie, Per Mertesacker, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Laurent Koscielny
- Euro 2008, 7: Johan Djourou, Philippe Senderos, Jens Lehmann, Łukasz Fabiański, William Gallas, Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas
- Euro 2004, 8: Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Jens Lehmann
- Euro 2000 8: David Seaman, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars
“But the current roster has a bunch of non-European internationals,” you say. That adds to the count Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pépé, and I suppose Lucas Torreira and Sead Kolasinac (yes, I know he’s European but Bosnia & Herzegovina aren’t in the tournament).
That’s a grand total of 10 players who’d likely make their respective national teams for an international tournament: 8 players from the current Arsenal roster plus two that were on-loan for at least half the season.
Looking back on the Arsenal rosters from other Euro years:
- 2015-16: David Ospina, Alexis Sanchez, Joel Campbell, Mohamed Elneny, and Alex Iwobi. Plus Santi Cazorla who was not called into Spain because of injury. Wojciech Szczęsny (on-loan that season) was hurt.
- 2011-12: Park Chu-young, Alex Song, Gervinho, and Marouane Chamakh. Bacary Sagna missed the Euros with a broken leg. Thomas Vermaelen’s Belgium didn’t qualify, nor did Aaron Ramsey’s Wales.
- 2007-08: Kolo Touré, Gilberto Silva, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Emmanuel Eboué. An injured Eduardo missed out on the Euros. Alexander Hleb’s Belarus didn’t qualify, nor did Nicklas Bendtner’s Denmark.
- 2003-2004: Lauren, Edu, Gilverto Silva, Kanu, and Kolo Touré
- 1999-2000: Kanu and Sylvinho (amusingly despite only 6 overall caps, was in the Brazilian national team picture then). Davor Suker’s Croatia and Oleh Luzhny’s Ukraine missed out.
So if you you want use to regular, full internationals on the roster as a proxy for squad strength, the current Arsenal crop is at least 3 quality players short of where things have been historically.
The roster is in as bad of shape as it has been in decades. It’s a mismatched jumble of players from three different managers that lacks in overall quality. Add to that Unai Emery’s questionable coaching / Mikel Arteta’s rigid, uninspired football and the “Big Four” expanding to the “Top 6” and now whatever you want to call Leicester City, Aston Villa, and West Ham thrown into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for, well, exactly what has happened to Arsenal over the past few seasons.
If you want to look at things more glass half-full, Arsenal have a handful of young players who project to be national team regulars soon. I’d expect Emile Smith Rowe to get his first full national call-up sometime in the next year. Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Magalhaes are both representing Brazil at the Olympics, a U-24 tournament. That said, all those Arsenal teams through the years had exciting, young players coming through as well.
And while this exercise may be a bit of a simplistic view of the complicated task that is squad-building, I don’t think “Arsenal have a less-talented roster than they’ve had in years” is a controversial take that most of you would dispute (and if you do, please say so in the comments).
The good news is that it seems as if Mikel Arteta and Edu know they’ve got plenty of work to do to rebuild the roster and restock the talent pool. The bad news is they’ve got to manage it with a limited budget during the worst financial crisis the football world has seen, while also building a squad that can compete to get back into the Champions League next season. And they may not even be the right people for the job.