Is it an acceptable excuse in modern football?
The Premier League is a tough and rigorous competition in which none of the 38 games each team plays will be a walk in the park. The likes of West Ham, Stoke City and Norwich City will work teams to the bone, using their superior fitness and physicality to grind down the opposition and bully their way to victory.
In addition, the cup competitions, as well as continental tournaments, could add a further combined twenty games or more to a season for clubs. Many of the top level talent in the Premier League will be expected to play around 50 games in all competitions by the end of the season.
Considering it is still relatively early in the footballing year – the FA Cup and European tournaments aren’t in full swing until the second half of the season – is tiredness an acceptable excuse for teams putting in dismal performances? Arsenal and Newcastle are the two clubs who stand accused of using fatigue as their justification for below par outings and letting achievable points slip away to their more sprightly opposition.
Following Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Swansea, which saw them slump down to tenth in the table, Wenger’s analysis was that his players looked “jaded”, especially towards the end of the game. It has not been the only instance that the French gaffer has used such reasoning this season, and to be fair to the Gunners, they have had a difficult schedule. Wenger has juggled the Premier League, in which their form has suffered, with the Champions League, not to mention an incredibly draining fixture that went to extra time against Reading in the Capital One Cup.
However, it’s not as if being in these competitions is of particular surprise to Wenger. He has been managing in England since 1996, and in that time has constantly finished in the top four and should therefore be fully aware of the consequences of playing European football. Manchester United, a club which Arsenal should but no longer fairly compare to, have an almost entire second XI formed of youngsters or squad players that are more than capable of competing in cup matches and against lesser continental opposition.
The same cannot be said for the Gunners, in fact the opposite is true. The lack of depth in the Arsenal squad is troubling, as it severely limits Wenger’s options and ability to rotate. Sebastien Squillaci, Andre Santos and Marouane Chamakh are merely making up the numbers, Johan Djourou and Andrei Arshavin have fallen out of favour for some questionable performances, and Kieran Gibbs, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Bacary Sagna appear to be in a perpetual battle against injury. In the past, Arsenal had a conveyor belt of young talent to cover for the first team but that appears to be a less successful element to the team than it used to be.
Perhaps Wenger’s “jaded” line is more understandable considering the players who he can actually have full confidence in starting, and has therefore been required to play at the weekend and in midweek continually. The Gunners have played twice a week since the 20th of October, and it is no coincidence that they improved to beat West Brom this weekend after Wenger rested many of his players for their midweek Champions League clash with Olympiakos. Then again, surely creating a squad of capable players is Wenger’s responsibility. The notion of tiredness is also somewhat contradictory with the Frenchman’s transfer philosophy, in which he argues that hard graft is what wins you the Premier League, not spending sprees – although Chelsea and Manchester City would suggest otherwise.
At Newcastle, the story is similar but with an added bit of misfortune. Although the excuse of tiredness has not been quite so loudly broadcasted by Pardew as it has Wenger, it linked to the concerning injury crisis at St. James’ Park and has been argued as a major cause of the club’s dwindling season. The Magpies have struggled in the Premier League, being largely disappointing considering their 5th place finish last season. Although I still hold my doubts over Alan Pardew, there is little he can do about injuries to key players. Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Demba Ba, Dan Gosling, Cheik Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Ryan Taylor and Steven Taylor have all been battling against injury this campaign, and considering these names read like a Magpies starting XI, it is understandable why they have struggled.
Alan Pardew has openly admitted his naivity in the summer about bringing players in. Newcastle signed a single player – unimpressive versatility man Vernun Anita. The club have been performing well in the Europa League, and although Pardew has often fielded youngsters, the continental tournament nearly always has an impact on a team’s domestic form. After Fulham reached the final of the competition under Roy Hodgson in 2010, they finished in 12th the following season – five places lower than the year previous.
Mulling over both Newcastle and Arsenal’s particular scenarios, perhaps the reasoning of tiredness becomes a more acceptable excuse, but in my opinion it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure he has a robust enough squad to handle the challenges of the modern game. Furthermore, both clubs have recently entered into business ventures that should have provided ample profit to build a team of considerable quality in depth. Arsenal have moved to a new stadium, and charge the highest in the Premier League for tickets and matchday food, while Newcastle have recently announced a sponsorship deal with Wonga that will start next season and renamed their stadium for commercial purposes, not to mention their millionaire owner.
Finally, the extra burden placed on teams competing in several competitions is hardly a secret. Perhaps the Magpies boss can claim ignorance bearing in mind the club’s fifth place finish was rather against the odds and the club’s injury list is incredibly unfortunate, but Arsenal have been competing in the Champions League season after season, in fact Arsene Wenger has used his impressive 16-year feat as a defence for those who say the Gunners have been faltering and moving backwards.
Therefore, I have little sympathy for the words jaded, tired, exhausted, drained, fatigued and shattered as an excuse for poor performance. It may make the players feel better, and may often be true, but from a managerial perspective – in which I include not just head coaches but anyone involved in bringing players to the club – it is hardly good enough.