Graham Arnold is convinced he has the depth to tackle any adversity thrown Australia’s way as he prepares to guide the Socceroos on their quest to reach the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Speaking just over two weeks out from the draw in Kuala Lumpur which will determine Australia’s opponents in the first phase of qualifying for Qatar 2022, Arnold insisted he has all the bases covered and an unshakable belief in a talent pool which runs over 40 players deep.
“We didn’t have the depth before but I believe we do now,” said Arnold who later this month will head to Europe to check first hand on his overseas contingent.
“After the South Korea game (a 1-0 loss in Busan last month) and in my work with the Olympic team I’ve seen 60-odd players now.
“I believe we’ve got up to four players competing for certain spots - and now it’s time for them to earn their shirts.
“Those who perform well will get that opportunity.
"For the first time in a long time there’s really intense competition for spots, and that’s just to even get in the squad.
“I’ve got high expectations and with the Copa America also coming up now, they’ll be exposed to even more top level international experience.
"What’s in front of us is exciting.”
Arnold, in many ways, had one hand tied behind his back at January’s AFC Asian Cup, where injury headwinds during and before the tournament blew Australia off course.
He lost four key creative players, leaving an insurmountable hurdle as Australia bowed out to hosts UAE in the quarter-finals.
"Once we have everybody back - the likes of (Aaron) Mooy, (Mathew) Leckie, (Daniel) Arzani, (Martin) Boyle and you have a fit Adam Taggart doing great in South Korea - and Brandon Borrello fit - I think the depth is there,” he declared.
“You’ve also got Awer Mabil and Chris Ikonomidis coming along well. They both did well at the Asian Cup.
“So I’m pleased with how we’re shaping up going into what’s going to be a long and demanding qualification campaign.”
Mooy, Boyle and Arzani all missed out in January through injury with Leckie coming in underdone and hurt, whilst Rogic was suspended for the quarter-final loss to UAE.
Arnold believes the bevy of senior squad members rested against Korea Republic have benefited from a summer break after years of club and national team grind.
He also confirmed that Hibernian winger Boyle, who has two goals from his three caps, will start the season in the Scottish Premiership after recovering from his long term knee injury.
He expects Celtic’s Arzani, another game-changer waiting in the wings, to be fully fit by September.
“All the massages I’m getting from the boys is how the good the break has been for them,” said Arnold.
“Their bodies are fresh and so are their minds. Some of the boys were broken after the last World Cup - that’s what the cycle does to you both mentally and physically.
“They don’t get a rest - and then they’re straight back to their clubs.”
Arnold will criss-cross the continent, jumping between Scotland, England, Austria and Denmark on his scouting mission.
He looks back on the performance against a full strength Korea Republic with a measure of satisfaction, tinged with disappointment.
“The boys (an experimental squad) did exceptionally well and I actually felt we were the better side against an A-category team in Asia,” he said.
“My main focus during this first year in charge has been about building depth.
“I didn’t need to take the Olympic team but I did it to try and help those kids develop and I have a decision to make there further down the track (on how long to combine both roles).
“In this job it’s not just what you see tactically and physically.
“You also learn a lot when you’re working with players in understanding their characters and attitudes.
“That’s one box you cant tick unless you’ve worked with them.
“I now know their mentalities, which ones you need to work on more and you build that trust also.”