What is Graham Arnold's plan for the Socceroos vs. Vietnam and Oman?

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"What's important is that players play match minutes for their club, overseas and here in Australia in the A-Leagues," Socceroos coach Graham Arnold told the Sydney Morning Herald in December.

It's a quote that leads one down the rabbit hole of Australian football and the Socceroos coach's hierarchy of needs, with the recent squad selection and upcoming World Cup qualification window in mind.

Because while most eyes are focused on the climax to the AFC's third round in March -- with Australia facing group leaders Saudi Arabia and second-placed Japan -- there is absolutely no margin for error in this week's games against Vietnam and Oman; the previous meetings between the two and Arnold's side are enough to suggest that these matches will be no formality.

With two points out of the last possible nine in Group B, dropping further points against Vietnam could make matters trickier for Australia, as Japan and Saudi Arabia face China and Oman respectively. The need to eliminate Oman from the playoff picture is the priority, before even turning attention to automatic World Cup qualification.

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To put it lightly, this is a pretty important window for Australia to navigate their way through.

Thus, considering Arnold's opening rationale and the Socceroos' current predicament, it makes Marco Tilio's call-up a peculiar one, given he has still seen less than 50% of available minutes for Melbourne City in the A-League Men's this season. Now, weigh that against the omission of Denis Genreau, a player who has seen over 50% of minutes at Ligue 2-leading Toulouse.

In addition, Genreau has been in and out of the Socceroos squad and has only played one match in this qualification cycle, a start and 86 minutes against Chinese Taipei. There have been obvious logistical battles Arnold and his staff have faced in this qualification cycle. However, consistency in squad and matchday selection arguably means that his comments to media this week have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

In less diplomatic terms, it sounded like pre-emptive martyrdom.

"For me, all I'm here for is to help these kids fulfill their dreams, help these younger kids have a life, a football journey, a life in football, because what I've experienced in my life, as a player and as a coach, I've got more blood in my body about football and passion in football than anything else," Arnold said.

"And that's all I want for the rest of the boys or the players is to have that if they can have that journey that I've had, then I'll be delighted for them. And as I've said, seeing these young kids, like people said to me: 'Why the hell did you take on the Olympic team? Why would you do that? Extra work? Extra pressure!'

"'You're not going to make the Olympics!' everyone told me beforehand.

"And I said I don't give a sh-- about that. I just care about the kids and trying to help the kids."

But what kind of kids are coming through? Now, let's ignore the fact that in Arnold's last season as their coach, Sydney FC held the highest percentage in minutes allocation for players aged 30 and over at 53.74%, and the lowest for players 20 and under at 1.56% -- the shoe is simply now on the other foot. In a window where Adam Taggart is again unavailable and Ajdin Hrustic is suspended for the first game against Vietnam, how the Socceroos coach approaches it all will be illuminative.

Yet one can already see how he and his staff will set up -- which has been noted before and during this qualification cycle -- in a style that is rigid and counterproductive to overall game complexion in Asia. Especially in times of duress.

It has been clear from the start that this World Cup qualification period would impose upon Australian football questions about itself: How does Australia interpret the game? What does Australia value in its football? Is that conducive to what Australia faces on the pitch?

Last week, it was highlighted how squad composition in the ALM underpins a deeply pragmatic reality in relation to certain profiles of footballer and their growth. That matters, because it ultimately manifests with the national team. In Arnold's own words, the Socceroos are the "true reflection of where we are at, because we can't bring foreigners in to strengthen our teams."

Now, let's also ignore the search towards Australia's diaspora for footballers in this past four-year cycle. There is a dire need to examine sporadic selection and utilisation of technically inclined Australian footballers. It speaks to a general lack of faith in that player quality at domestic and international levels of the game, including the Socceroos under Arnold.

This squad has wingers and attackers who struggle playing on the run and going at defenders in the form of Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Craig Goodwin and Martin Boyle, and midfielders with largely singular skillsets in Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine and Riley McGree. Connor Metcalfe arguably provides more ill-conceived depth in that respect.

Like Hrustic and Tom Rogic throughout this qualification window, Tilio has effectively been called upon to carry the burden of all that, albeit in what would likely be an in impact role off the bench. Take into account, only Japan (106.33) has averaged more possessions over 15 seconds than the Socceroos (104.83) in the entirety of AFC World Cup qualifying, but the latter ranks 7th for progressive passes and 19th for dribbles per 90.

While sixth out of the remaining 12 for xG per shot, Australia have scored more goals than any other team from outside the penalty area and from combined dead ball situations -- corners, penalties and free kicks.

Australia's results in this World Cup qualifying phase have largely obscured the nature of performances -- meandering in abundant possession, conservative in decision-making on an individual and strategic level. In recent commentary, Arnold immediately sought to pacify an outcome-dependent footballing public and media, once results inevitably aligned with middling performances against stronger opposition.

Now with qualification under threat, reputational damage limitation is seemingly more important than actually functioning on the pitch.

"Yes, I enjoy winning premierships. I enjoy all that," Arnold said on Friday. "But if you asked me what I preferred, I prefer to see Maty Ryan playing for Brighton in the Premier League every week like he was, and seeing players that I coached becoming millionaires and achieving great things in life over me winning a trophy.

"I'm pretty proud of the 11 straight wins in a row, breaking a world record.

"But those 14 games, as I said, you know we played 14 World Cup qualifiers and we've won the 11, drawn two and lost one and the one we lost was an own goal and we played 12 away from home."

To borrow a phrase from Mike Tyson, everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. But throughout this qualification phase, let alone the squad for this critical upcoming window in isolation, what exactly has Arnold's plan been?