Selection headaches for Le Prof! by Jules
Finally, after a turbulent season in which Arsenal have oscillated between extreme highs – such as the victory in Munich and the double digit goal thrillers against Reading and Newcastle – to the dire displays against the minnows at the Lane, the no show at Old Trafford and the indefensible defeats to Blackburn and Bradford, albeit the former being on penalty kicks – it is fair to say Arsenal at present are in rich vein of form (touch wood). Thus, it is with open arms all those associated with The Arsenal will welcome the latest selection headaches in a variety of positions on the field, most notably in attack.
Firstly however, I shall start from the back with the tug of war between Jenkinson and Sagna for the right back spot. I shall admit at my own accord I am Bakary Sagna’s biggest fan, however I will also concede that the Frenchman’s performances have been indifferent for the majority of the season and so Jenkinson has earned the right to start at right back at the Hawthornes. However, with that said it was very astute of Wenger to give him the full game against a urine poor Reading side, whose only hope was Akpan as Sagna had been out for a considerable amount of time and the Royals were unlikely to to trouble him too much on his return. The end result was that Sagna acquired some valuable match time which could prove immensely important should Jenkinson get an injury and we must call upon the service of our dread-locked warrior with short notice.
With the right back debate now out of the way we can now swiftly move on to the dilemma at left back. In my unbiased opinion, I judge Keiran Gibbs to be one of the best left backs in the premier league, comfortable in defence and always improving in attack, his masterful volley at the Liberty Stadium springs to mind. However, Wenger seems to have struck gold in signing Nacho Monreal as competition for the twenty-three year-old Gibbs. Not only is Monreal a steady defender who has adapted to the English game with consummate ease, he also alleviates some of the worries that were present in regards to who should cover Keiran Gibbs should he get injured, as he unfortunately does. Bearing in mind Nacho took a knock in the build up to Reading’s goal, for which he was partly culpable, though Wenger said it would keep him out for about two to three days I would still give him a break on our trip to West Brom’. Gibbs came on on Saturday and finished the game unscathed and he should be more than capable this coming weekend, after all he was terrific there in the last game of the season.
Apparently there is some perplexity over who should start at centre back. Notice, I use the term “apparently” as there is absolutely no reason why if both fit Mertesacker and Koscielny should not pair up on Saturday afternoon. Vermaelen’s only claim for a start, considering his abysmal form for the Gunners is that he is club captain, but Arteta has been far more proficient in that duty. Ceteris Paribus Koscielny and Mertesacker should continue their flourishing double act. The same logic should apply to the goalkeeping situation, at times Szczesny has been absolutely awful and Fabianski deserves his moment in the sun after such a long wait with injuries and other impediments. Be under no misapprehension, I am still of the opinion that Szczesny will be one of if not the best keeper in the world in years to come, his performances over the last two years provide testament to that notion and if not Wilshere it is most likely he whom will skipper Arsenal for the years to come but for now Fabianski should retain his place.
Two positions not up for any form of discussion are the two central midfield slots currently occupied the criminally uncapped Mikel Arteta and the former Welsh captain Aaron Ramsey, the irony renders me speechless. Arteta is the closest thing the Premier League has to Xavi and I would love to see what the deep-lying play-maker could accomplish next to a robust and tenacious defensive ball retriever that could emancipate him from defensive exposure, someone in the same class as Wanyama or Capoue (at least one of which we should try and purchase this summer) and perhaps maybe even Coquelin. Not to say Ramsey is not doing his part for Arsenal’s cause, as I have suggested his recent form warrants a start against West Bromwich Albion however there are many alternatives in the market and in an ideal world he would be a squad player at best but for now we can only work with what we have. The Welshman’s form has been improving with every game since that backs against the wall performance v Sunderland, one of the few games where all of the men in our beloved red and white earned their wages.
One of the most contentious decisions regarding selection must be made as to who plays in front of Ramsey and Arteta. Most Arsenal fans have been demanding that the man we affectionately refer to as ‘Mozart’ gets some starts under his belt. Le Prof answered his and the general fan base’s prayers in giving Rosicky his second league start of the season and for the most part Mozart did not let us down. However, as with every decision the opportunity cost must be assessed; is it worth ushering our best player Cazorla for the luxury of the skillful Czech captain? I for one would prefer to see Santi Cazorla orchestrate the game for the middle with the liberty to pop up any and everywhere he sees fit, Saturday was not the first time we have seen Cazorla put out wide but it was one of the few times it has paid dividends. One cannot neglect the fact that we were playing against the worst team in the Premier League and whilst it is undeniable that Cazorla is definitely stronger on the left than on the right, I for one would rather see him return to a more central role similar to the beginning of the season.
Part of the reason why I want Cazorla off the left is so that Podolski can return to the left hand side of our offense. On his day he can compete with the very best wingers in European club football, his reputation speaks for itself amassing over a century of caps before turning twenty-eight for what is one of the elite teams of international football. I simply cannot fathom how we can afford not to have a player of such a high calibre on the pitch and talk of him leaving us makes me very uneasy. Throughout the duration of the season there has been talk of him playing down the middle in place of Giroud, but rest assured ‘Poldi’ is not Van Persie: left footed, yes, a clinical finisher, yes but an out and out centre fotward, no. Even when playing for Germany he is most dangerous when playing on the left, his delivery is precise and he contributes on the scoreboard too and that is what we need.
With the the left hand side of the attack addressed and unless Giroud somehow get injured in training or by the many Arsenal fans who simply do not see what he brings to the team (I’m not saying he is world class or anything of the sort) that only leaves only the right hand side of Arsenal’s attack in the ever present four-three-three formation. This position in the team is in many ways, due to many factors the most competitive with Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho all pressing for a start. To start with Walcott, back from injury according to the Arsene Wenger in time to face Baggies, is probably the worst option, believe it or not below Gervinho. If as some people have suggested Gervinho’s goal and brace of assists are a flattering representation of his ability then I would love to hear their thoughts on the man who has scored eighteen goals and has another fifteen assists on top of that. In recent appearances Theo Walcott has been nothing short of useless, in all honestly conning The Club into raising his wages and then repaying us with a goal drought. If Gervinho is frustrating then what about Walcott, a player still young with evident potential who appears to have just stopped trying. Furthermore, his selfish play since crowning himself a striker, a crown which he unceremoniously abdicated in the first leg against Bayern in which he couldn’t hold up a candle let alone the ball, seems to have hindered all the other forward play and also played a part in Giroud’s dip in form.
Of the remaining to candidates, ‘Ox’ and ‘Fourhead’, either one is a viable option. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, though having some dire displays this season is still one of the brightest talents in the Premier League with unlimited potential. Able to play a variety of positions, favouring the second striker role but ending up on the wings for the sake of the team, there are few players as direct as he is. His cameo against Reading proved fruitful with a late penalty assassinating any attempts of a Reading comeback along with his appearance against Swansea in which he was unlucky not to add to his surprisingly low goal tally. Another aspect of ‘The Ox’s’ game that is missing for the Arsenal team’s repertoire particularly when he is not included and Cazorla is out wide is striking at goal from distance. Chamberlain worried Vorm in the game against Swansea with his long distance shots and his strike against Newcastle in the seven-five roller coaster victory is evidence of this capability. For a team with players that possess such a great long range shot (the likes of Arteta, Podolski, Wilshere crop up alongside Cazorla and AOC while Giroud and Ramsey seem to over do it on occasion) we really shoud test keepers from range more, the likes of Walcott, Gervinho, Giroud and Podolski are sure to benefit from the rebound opportunities every once in a while.
And last but not least, Gervinho. What better way to round up an article than to discuss the most enigmatic ‘talent’ to ever sport our colours, a man whose ability to turn nothing into something is exceeded only by his capability to turn something into absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, for all my condescending jibes the man is delivering at present, coming on against Bayern and almost keeping us in the Champions League, a goal against Swansea and a sterling show against Reading, if it weren’t for his last touch he would be in the running for the Ballon D’or. In all seriousness though, his form tends to come in little bursts and the confidence of a run of games can do him no harm and thus he would probably get my vote to start ahead of Chamberlain.
Though I am a frequenct user of the adage ‘In Arsene We Trust’, I would offer a word of advice to the great man – learn to take key players off when we are cruising, especially Cazorla. I would like to see possibly Arshavin or Gnabry get a game at this stage of the season after following Arsenal’s NextGen campaign and seeing him feature for the senior team previously. Other members of the U19 cohort will be ready for their introduction next season, make sure to keep an eye out for Bellerin, Jenkinson’s long term competition and may surpass him outright, Hayden, Akpom and Olsson.