Talking Points: Graham Arnold on AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ squad announcement

Subway Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has announced Australia’s squad for the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™, which gets underway next month.

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Here are the main talking points from his press conference:

On the squad

It's been a bit of a tough couple of weeks getting the squad together at a tricky time in the season for everybody right around the world. But I truly believe that I've selected a fantastic squad, a strong squad, a great mixture of experienced players, but also inexperienced players that will bring a lot of energy into the camp. In my view, it’s a very, very strong squad. And I'm looking forward to going across to Doha with the squad and doing a fantastic job for the nation.

Bruno Fornaroli re-selection

The most important thing with the Socceroos is form and Bruno’s done a fantastic job. He’s had a fantastic start to the season and it’s very, very hard to ignore. His body looks in fantastic shape. I had a great conversation with Tony Popovic who was very supportive of it [Fornaroli’s selection] and that’s the type of form you want from all the players in and around to be selected for the Socceroos. Bruno has done a fantastic job and he fully deserves his selection.

He definitely gives you something different and the four nines that I’ve picked there, that you can see; two younger ones to learn off the older ones. It’s a concern that position on the pitch long term because of the age of some of the players and having Mitchell Duke and Bruno there with Kusini Yengi and John Iredale who can play not only as a number nine, but also as a ten and a seven, it gives us more variety in the frontline as well. Bruno with that type of experience, he can be great for the younger ones.

Gethin Jones and John Iredale inclusions

He’s [Gethin Jones] one that we’ve had our eye on for the last couple of years. He wasn’t hard to convince but it takes its time to get through the FIFA regulations to change his registration. He probably would have been in last camp but that [registration] didn’t come through in time. I went and watched him when I was in the UK, very impressive. Obviously, with the Ryan Strain injury, it gave us that opportunity. That’s a position at right fullback we’ve been building depth and strength in, with taking three right-backs in Nathaniel [Atkinson], Lewis Miller as well as Gethin. Nathaniel has only just come back from injury and he’s played two lots of 90 minutes, I do expect him to play probably another two or three games before we get into camp.

Gethin Jones
Gethin Jones with Bolton Wanderers. Photo Credit: Imago Images.

But Gethin is one who was born in Perth, he lived there until he was eight or nine years of age before he headed back to the UK and he’s always wanted to play for Australia. He has played for Wales at junior level and when I went and watched at Bolton Wanderers, I was very impressed with him. He’s had the privilege of playing with Harry Souttar before and it’s a great addition to the squad. Gethin Jones is not a young talent, he’s a 27, 28-year-old who’s been around for a long time. He knows the type of role and we’ve been watching him for that long.

John Iredale is someone I had in camp right at the start of my reign in Turkey. He’s one that I’ve admired for a long a time because he’s got that strength and skill and he’s starting to do well in the 2. Bundesliga. I’ve obviously got one eye on the Asian Cup, but I’ve got two eyes on the World Cup and qualifying directly and think you can see by this squad.

John Iredale
John Iredale with SV Wehen Wiesbaden. Photo Credit: Imago Images.

Yazbek selection

In Norway, there is no competition at the moment. He’s in his off-season so that was easier to bring him in.

Alexander Robertson and Alessandro Circati exclusions

I’ve got to be honest, we’ve got depth in those positions. What’s better for the kids at the age of 20? Coming away in a tournament situation, maybe getting a couple of minutes here and there or staying with their clubs at this age and playing eight competition games and enhancing their future and will get rewarded in six months' time.

Mathew Leckie omission

Speaking with Melbourne City, speaking with Lecks. I make the decisions and I’m not passing it on to anyone else, I make the decisions. Lecks was keen to come but I just feel that the last six months Lecks has had with injuries, coming and then being injured again. I think it’s better he stays with his club and gets rid of the stress of having to try and get fit and play for us. The most important thing for me is that he gets his body right and he gets into a rhythm, routine of playing, training every day and getting himself ready for Lebanon in March.

Returning to Doha

It’s like a second home for us. When we couldn’t come back and play here in Australia with COVID we had our World Cup Qualifiers in Qatar. We’ve had the experience of the World Cup. At the same time, you can’t look at the same squad the same. I think there are 11 players in this squad that were at the World Cup last year so it’s an opportunity to give an experience to the younger ones to play in Qatar in those fantastic stadiums. The Olympic boys will go across and do the same in April for the qualifiers but it’s really an easy place to go and play and we’re very aware of the culture of Qatar. They’ve got fantastic training facilities. Great resources for everyone so it’s going to be great.

Mathew Ryan fitness update

The information I’m getting from the medical team, and Maty’s bought a beautiful mask, I do believe he will be fine. Maty is always someone who is completely focused and ready for those type of things and he’s heading back to Australia to have probably a week’s break. This time next he’ll be back in the gym working and being able to do some exercise and then by the time we get into Abu Dhabi for the pre-camp, he’ll be back doing one-on-one goalkeeper training. He probably won’t be ready for the friendly against Bahrain, but I imagine he could be ready for the India game.

Arnold comfortable and settled with squad

When you think back about it, the boys went to Russia in 2018. They had Bert van Marwijk as a coach. I came in and they had to deal with a different coach. I had retirements of Timmy Cahill and Mile Jedinak and it was about really starting again. I’ve been around the boys for quite a while now but I’m really excited, I can’t wait. I honestly believe it’s a fantastic squad. I always have high expectations of the boys and speaking with them, congratulating them over the last couple of days has given me a lot of goosebumps and energy. I’ve had to make the tough calls but the boys were very, very understanding with those calls I’ve made and they know we’re in the midst of World Cup Qualifiers and they can get ready for that.

Squad changes if there were fewer difficulties with clubs releasing players

Not much different. I really hope you look at that today and you look at the ones who aren’t here through injury and that and see the depth we’ve created. I had to do that through World Cup Qualifiers last campaign, and we’re getting rewarded today because I really think when you look at the squad there are a lot of players that I haven’t selected that could’ve easily been here. I’m really happy with it.

When I first took over in 2018, I didn’t have anywhere near this depth and part of my job when first took over was with the Olympic team in building that depth. With a certain amount of players out injured and unavailable, we’ve still got a very, very, very strong squad and one I’m very happy with.

Maintaining style with turnover of players

It’s crucial with the senior players. The blend for me is so crucial. You have senior players that are leaders and when the new ones come into camp, they’re made to feel welcome straight away. We really have a great family culture environment with the Socceroos and that will never change. I don’t think that has ever changed in all the time I’ve been involved in and around the Socceroos all these years. The young ones come in and they get accepted straight away and it’s important that they feel at home. If they don’t, then they’re not going to perform and the communication is the key.

Martin Boyle finally playing in a major tournament

I’ve photos at home of Boyley in the centre circle with me at the World Cup after games and that’s how crucial Boyley is to the environment. If anyone fully deserves a selection for this one it is Martin Boyle because of what he’s been through. I will just say that I’ve got a very stressful 10 days ahead because there are still games to be played and I’ve picked this squad I’ll be watching to make sure that the boys get through the games that’s important.

Goalkeeping unit including Joe Gauci and Lawrence Thomas

John Crawley is the expert at goalkeeping and it’s about the future. Joe Gauci has been doing very, very well at Adelaide. And Lawrence Thomas, for me has been the best goalkeeper in the A-League for the last two years. If Maty doesn't recover from that injury then we need to have that type of experienced goalkeeper there and Lawrence can take over and obviously Joe Gauci but it's important that we're building depth in that department as well.

Jamie Maclaren non-selection

It's one of the phone calls that I hate making but I think Jamie was the first one to admit that maybe Bruno's in better form than him at the moment. Jamie's got a great future with us. He's been fantastic for me over the last four odd years and I explained to him that I wanted to take for this Asian Cup two senior number nines and to younger number nines because I'm looking at the future as well. Jamie was very, very understanding of that. He's been fighting a bit of an ankle injury as everyone knows, and it's good that he can just focus on getting that right and playing club football at Melbourne City, and getting himself ready for the future.

Marco Tilio returning to the squad

I think I can be honest here and say if it [squad regulations] stayed at 23 there was probably a good chance that Marco wouldn't have come but the fact that it got extended to 26 it enables us to have someone completely different that can play left wing, right wing, number 10. He’s got the experience of major tournaments, being with me at the Olympics in 2021. But also the World Cup and I do believe this can help his Celtic career.

I've looked at how also we can help that Olympic campaign and, and conversation with Brendan Rodgers. At the end of the day, Tils hasn't played much at Celtic, but we know what he can do. He can bring that bit of difference as an impact player as well and be with us and get that smile back on his face and getting ready obviously for Celtic but also available, the availability and fresher and fitter for the Olympic campaign as well.

Marco Tilio

Harry Souttar gametime

Harry brings us something different. And I know how hard Harry works at his club and everything. But he played two games, two 90-minute games with us only three weeks ago, and was probably our best player in both games so that's what Harry brings.

Goal-scoring hopes for Kusini Yengi and Sam Silvera

It's no secret when you look at that spot [stiker], and that we've got some older players up front that might not make 2026. Sam Silvera, when he went away, when he left the Mariners, he hit the ground running at Middlesbrough. I had a chat to him about it [his form] in Kuwait, a little bit of down period now. And because it really hits you hard with that amount of football they play over there compared to here. He played in the Cup game the other night, great assist, and he brings us something very different.

Yengi is doing fantastic. I was impressed with him, very impressed with him last camp not only just as a footballer, as a human being as well and a great person and he fit into the culture extremely well. I think that having those type of kids in and around a Bruno Fornaoli. I spoke to Bruno about that yesterday about, leading, leading these young ones and showing them the way and helping them with their careers is important.

Players selected for the Asian Cup who may not go to the World Cup

That’s not my choice. That’s theirs. The older boys, the Goodwin's, Duke's and Boyle's. They’ve got to be performing at their club and fit. This is the whole reason, in a way for Leckie that I've left him out and that side of it, because I just want him to get fit and get his body right. He does that, I do believe he's got a chance to get into the next World Cup. You don't rule any of those senior players out, it gets down to the club form, gets down to injuries, match minutes, and how much passion they've got to get there. And how hard they want to work to get there. And that's the biggest thing. Myself being the way I am - an overthinker. I do plan for the bad scenario and make sure that we've got players ready, just in case.

Riley McGree

It was either Lecks or Riley because Riley can play across anywhere in the midfield and out wide and Riley’s probably three weeks ahead of him. And I know it's a risk but Riley’s back full training. He’ll be available for selection probably this weekend. And I expected to get potentially a couple of games in before we catch up. Otherwise, he'll be available definitely for the Bahrain game and beyond.

Balance between Asian Cup and Olympics

Obviously, with some of the players that were injured, like Dennis Genreau, and Awer Mabil and those type of players that maybe it [the squad] could have been a bit different, but with them amount injured, I think I'm really, really happy with the mix. And when I say that, the older ones with the 25-year-olds, down to 23, 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds that have already a little bit of a pathway with the Olympic team.

I really think it's a top squad. There are half a dozen to ten players that could have come in as well. That just shows you where I do feel so confident today that finally I can sit here, and if there is an injury, we've got depth where I used to worry about if one play got injured, we didn't have a replacement, and now we do.

AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ - Australia's Group B Matches

Australia v India
Date: Saturday, 13 January 2024
Venue: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Kick-off: 2:30pm local, 10:30pm (AEDT)

Syria v Australia
Date: Thursday, 18 January 2024
Venue: Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: 2:30pm local, 10:30pm (AEDT)

Australia v Uzbekistan
Date: Tuesday, 23 January 2024
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Kick-off: 2:30pm local, 10:30pm (AEDT)

A PDF version of the Match Schedule can be found HERE.