Walcott doesn’t want to be there. Ramsey shouldn’t be there. Ox is struggling there. Alexis is better off elsewhere. Gnabry would love to be there, but he’s never around. If you’re American, it’s the best place to be, but there are no Americans who could be there. Where is it? Arsenal’s right wing; and we need to talk about it.
With Walcott and Ox being sacrificed to the football Gods (albeit unsuccessfully) Arsenal are shorter than Santi Cazorla out wide, which presents a big problem for the forthcoming fixtures against Swansea and Bayern, not to mention the North London Derby on Nov 8.
Arsene Wenger is left with an important tactical decision – play a player that is clearly not good enough in Joel Campbell, or re-shuffle the pack completely with a tactical or personnel change.
Option one is playing Kieran Gibbs as a winger on the left, and push Alexis to the right. This ensures maximal familiarity in formation, which is key. Alexis hasn’t thrived on the right as much, but as the squad’s most talented player, he should be able to provide a high enough performance level to make it work. Gibbs has played nominally on the left during the Max-Fullbacks phase of games late-on, and would provide great help for Natxo Monreal when facing Ayew and Muller. Gibbs has the ability to get in crosses from the left, which is something which will delight Olivier Giroud greatly.
Meanwhile, Alexis’ determination to get back would actually help out Hector Bellerin as well, meaning this has several winning marks.
Less likely is moving either Mesut Ozil or Cazorla out wide, where they have played previously in their career (although Ozil is certainly wasted out there) and packing Flamini into the midfield with Coquelin. This is intriguing. While Swansea away isn’t likely to be a backs-to-the-wall type game, and Flamini wasn’t great against Sheffield Wednesday, he can play box-to-box with great enthusiasm and doesn’t mind a shot – as he showed against Sp*rs in the cup and in a few games more recently.
The real use for that formation could come against Bayern on Wednesday. Bayern, if you weren’t already aware, tend to dominate midfield, so another tenacious tackler in the middle might be useful. The only drawback (well, not the only one) would be lacking a Santi-type player in there who can hold onto the ball, avoid pressure and make intelligent passes out. Then again, needs must, and Arsenal are unlikely to have too many better options.
The wild-card, as discussed the other day, is the youth players. While clearly none of them are ready for first team action, right now Arsenal are going to have to put a few on the bench to fill out the squad. Dan Crowley’s return is interesting, although it is unwise to believe he might pull a Coq and suddenly burst onto the scene. Calum Chambers, who hardly impressed on Tuesday either, has been tipped as a potential CM in the future but he is not close to competing there just yet.
Ultimately, these are the days that Wenger earns his paycheque. He has a delicate balancing act ahead. Setting the team up to succeed in some tough fixtures, while making sure he doesn’t burn his squad out either. Alexis and Santi in particular have played a lot of minutes, while Coquelin has a tough job and could eventually feel some serious side-effects from his style of play.
The best case scenario is that Ox and Walcott aren’t badly hurt and this conversation is over before it starts. With Ramsey not hurt terribly bad either, the preferred 11 are not unduly troubled long-term. But it would be nice for everyone involved if Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere could put their injury troubles behind them permanently and provide some healthy competition and important minutes. January seems like a reasonable expectation here. Meanwhile, the idea of Rosicky and Arteta ever playing significant minutes again seem unlikely.
Funny enough, it’s intriguing that in all of this, one area not being discussed is defense. Over the years, Wenger has been criticized for the number of midfielders and forwards he purchases, but Arsenal always needed defenders.
That position is settled beyond doubt, with some healthy competition even sprouting between Mertesacker and Gabriel to see who gets to hang out with Koscielny. Fullbacks Monreal and Bellerin are as nailed-on selections as there is anywhere in the team right now.
Ultimately the next few weeks will be an interesting test of the first team’s resilience and depth. But no matter what, January can’t come soon enough.