Thoughts on Arsenal – Current and Future by NepaliGunner
It is a good time to be a Gunner. We are on an 8 match winning streak, 2nd in the table, in the FA cup semi-final and the form team in the EPL. It is certainly in stark contrast to our fortunes earlier in the season. It says a lot about the team, the coaches and the manager to get to this point. 2015 has proven (at least to me) that this Arsenal squad has talent at the highest level and is a cohesive unit. Arsene Wenger constantly mentions togetherness and spirit in his press conferences, and I think he has really instilled a strong sense to teamwork and togetherness in this team, which is a great credit to him.
What has been interesting is the evolution of the playing style. We finally have a balanced squad (more on that later). But there has been a distinct change in formation and playing style which has been discussed. The now cited 4-1-4-1 has been fruitful, although using any one particular numerical formation to describe Arsenal is not accurate. However, the one thing in particular that I would like to note is a switch of flanks which has really affected our players and the point of attack.
With the purchase of Alexis last summer, Wenger got a player who is a clinical finisher and extremely energetic player in both attack and defense. What he brings to the team is a fast attacker who can also hound the opposition, and generally be thorn in the opponent’s defense for 90 minutes. Alexis is an elite player, and has done a wonderful job for us. But we also had another player who had a similar function before Alexis came in – Theo Walcott. What Alexis’ role is now is what Theo did for us, but on the opposite flank. Now, few would disagree that Alexis is the better player. But more importantly, Alexis has also facilitated a switch in our flanks which affects some other players. I think that’s what will define the upcoming summer and the look of the squad next season.
This pivot primarily affects Theo, who has lost the leverage he had as a player because Alexis can do what he does better. Furthermore, the change in the flanks also does Theo a further disservice. Not that he is necessarily bad from the left (the 6-3 City game last year is one example where he was on the left and scored 2), but I do think he is still better on the right. Regardless, Theo isn’t a guaranteed starter now which affects his future at the club. I won’t go into too much detail since it’s already been talked about a lot, but I do not see Theo staying at Arsenal this summer.
The other player I think this switch affects and in more positive manner is Jack Wilshere. I think he will benefit from the change in formation and the flank as a position opens up for him on the right that I think better suits his natural tendencies. I do think this is where Wenger’s vision also lies; one that makes me excited. Given the 4-1-4-1, and assuming Alexis is nailed on to start wide left (with Oxlade and Welbeck capable of filling in), we have 3 positions in the 4 behind the striker (Giroud) that are essentially up for grabs by Ozil, Santi, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ox, Welbeck and Rosicky (Arteta might be a candidate too if needed). I think with the amount of games we play, it is pretty easy to see them rotate and everyone getting games. As we also know, our injury record is not stellar so I do not see an issue with game-time.
Here are a couple of iterations of the front five that I see as very reasonable:
There are other iterations that are reasonable too, but these two are most likely as right now Ozil and Santi are also undroppable. So with that in mind, Ramsey and Wilshere will probably come in to the team alternately, but they can all play a part.
This is exciting because I think either one of this formation maximizes the strengths of both Ramsey and Wilshere. Santi has been a revelation in the center, and contrary to what many believe I think Ozil is quite effective on the left too. With the fluid nature of Arsenal’s play, I do not think the starting position is of particular consequence though it does have implications on the defensive side. Furthermore, I think Wilshere’s strengths also lie in playing further up front, and cutting in from the left suits him better (Napoli last year is one example). Either ways, I think this formation makes a lot of sense. This is essentially of how Arsenal have played in the past (remember when Benayoun would play on the left with Theo on the right). This switches the flank but is essentially the same formation. One I think can be very effective particularly given Sanchez’s ability and also Ox’s potential (does Sanchez-lite sound too demeaning?).
This switch also affects the fullbacks. With a midfielder on the right flank, Bellerin’s attacking instinct also becomes more of an asset as his overlaps provide more space for the midfielder. I think this is also a reason Gibbs has featured less this season, although Monreal’s form has been great.
I think it’s an exciting time with a clear vision. Just to indulge in the transfer speculation (which has very little value I realize), I think next season we won’t have Theo, Podolski, Joel Campbell, Diaby and Flamini, and we will bring in one mid-fielder. I think transfer activity coming in will be very little. It’s about continuity and keeping everyone fit.
With a summer off, all players should be fresh to start and we should have enough players to rotate well. I am optimistic, but then again I am optimistic every summer. However, this season definitely seems like major progress. I just hope I am correct in my assertions.