Melbourne Rectangular Stadium has been named as the venue that will play host to a crucial World Cup qualifier between the Socceroos and Vietnam on 27 January 2022.
Speaking to the media ahead of the announcement that Melbourne will host its first men’s national team match in over four years, Graham Arnold was intent on asseverating the importance of match minutes in the lead-up to that match and the away fixture against Oman that will follow it.
“For me that was the biggest issue last window,” he explained with regards to players getting consistent minutes at club level.
“Thankfully now, I’m being positive, the A-League has started so now I can pick players on form, not reputation.”
Although Arnold is never one to mince his words, the fervency with which he expressed himself in this instance is quite remarkable given that he has been criticised for fielding individuals that are not receiving consistent minutes in Europe.
In particular, crucial offensive weapons Ajdin Hrustić and Awer Mabil have played less than 200 minutes between them at Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Midtjylland in their respective European leagues since 19 September 2021.
Elsewhere in the squad, Fran Karačić has been struggling for match minutes with Serie B side Brescia having received just 13 minutes in the league this season.
With the Socceroos manager illustrating his desire to pick players primarily on their form at club level, it appears likely that at least some of these aforementioned mainstays of the team may have to bide their time behind those playing consistently elsewhere.
Whether or not this comes in the form of those plying their trade in the A-League Men competition remains to be seen but Arnold certainly made no mistake in notifying the public of his desire to give opportunities to players performing well in Australia’s top tier of professional football.
“You can tell that they’ve had a long off-season and it’s not their fault, it’s due to COVID,” said Arnold when referring to the quality of the first four rounds of the A-League Men season.
“Newcastle Jets and these clubs that didn’t make the top six hadn’t kicked a ball since May. When you watch games and see players go down with cramps after 60 minutes it shows it’s been a long off-season but in the next six to eight weeks, they’re gonna get six, seven, eight games and you will see an improvement.”
Having called upon the likes of Mathew Leckie, Andrew Nabbout, Jamie Maclaren and Rhyan Grant for the previous window against Saudi Arabia and China, it seems that Arnold will call upon more Australian-based players for the upcoming qualifiers with Chris Ikonomidis, Connor Metcalfe and Curtis Good among those likely to throw their hat in the ring for selection.
With the Socceroos placed in a precarious position to qualify for the World Cup after failing to register a win in their last three qualifying matches, Graham Arnold will certainly require the best from whoever takes to the field against Vietnam and Oman.
Given the weight on Graham Arnold’s shoulders, prioritising minutes for those playing consistently at club level may be the best way for the Socceroos to end their minor slump and again place themselves in the pole position to qualify for a fifth consecutive World Cup.