By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Shad Forsythe has been one of Arsene Wenger’s best signings, Liverpool lack Champions League-calibre players and other lessons from the Premier League showdown at Emirates Stadium
Forsythe has given Wenger more selection options
The name Shad Forsythe will not mean much to the average football fan. But Arsenal are starting to reap the rewards of shaking up their backroom staff last summer and appointing the American as their new fitness guru.
Forsythe, who had spent a decade overseeing the fitness preparation of the Germany national team, has had to share first-team duties with the Gunners’ long-standing fitness coach Tony Colbert in his debut Premier League campaign.
But he has gradually been given more power by the cautious Wenger and Forsythe’s more modernistic injury prevention methods are bearing fruit.
With the season in its final stages, the Arsenal manager is in the welcome position of having a far stronger squad than usual to select from.
Against Liverpool, the substitutes were Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Danny Welbeck, who all started for England during the international break, January signing Gabriel and experienced duo Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini. Liverpool’s bench was puny by comparison.
Wenger is used to having a decimated squad in early April as injuries take their toll. Now, there is competition for places and this will soon intensify further.
Long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Debuchy and Mikel Arteta are close to returning, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be back for the final month of the season.
Arsenal are feeling the Forsythe effect. It makes such a difference being able to select your best players.
Arsenal have more big-match experience than Liverpool
Year after year, Arsenal’s seasons take on a similar pattern. Just when they appear to be struggling to clinch a Champions League place, they dig deep and get the job done.
A 10th victory in 11 matches has inspired a new wave of optimism at Arsenal. Suddenly, thoughts are not centred on qualifying for the Champions League but putting pressure on leaders Chelsea.
With Wenger’s team now a comfortable nine points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool, it would take quite a meltdown for them not to take their seats at European football’s top table next season.
Given Arsenal’s experience in navigating the final weeks of a campaign, Brendan Rodgers’ side is going to have to look elsewhere for top-four salvation.
Crucially, the Londoners have the big-match experience in their ranks that is conspicuous by its absence in the Merseysiders’ squad.
Liverpool have turned their season around after a disastrous first half of the campaign but they have still fallen short when it mattered – against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final and in the last two league showdowns against Manchester United and Arsenal.
With Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel suspended, the only players in today’s squad who had Champions League experience before this campaign were Kolo Toure, whose best years are long behind him, and Lucas. That is proving quite telling.
In comparison, Arsenal are groaning with experienced players. When Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny succumbed to injury, Wenger replaced them with Welbeck and Flamini. Rodgers had nowhere to turn.
Rodgers’ team lacks star quality
Liverpool are still paying the price for an underwhelming transfer window last summer.
As Rodgers’ team fell to pieces shortly before the break, delivering what is likely to be a decisive blow to their hopes of a top-four finish, the thought occurred that, bar a handful of players, the manager has at his disposal a squad distinctly lacking in star quality.
When scouts assess players for big clubs, one of the key criteria is whether individual targets are regarded as Champions League-calibre. Either now, or in the future.
Of Liverpool’s squad, how many are Champions League quality? Perhaps five, at most.
Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can have all looked comfortable this season against blue-chip opponents, as does Daniel Sturridge when he is fit and firing. Jordan Henderson is not as gifted technically as that quartet but his energy and commitment shows he belongs in elevated company.
Steven Gerrard and Toure are past their best, Adam Lallana might still come good, while the brutal truth is that the rest of Rodgers’ squad are a bunch of mid-table players who do not cut it at the top level.