That is the question that one fine gentleman asked me last Saturday before the Norwich game. Said gentleman is known to many of you, and I will not divulge anything more other than to say his name rhymes with gasp. My response to the question was that maybe a post should be done about it. Listening in on said conversation was a mighty fine lady, also known to many of you, and again I will respect confidentiality and say only that her name rhymes with breaches. Well I am glad I have bamboozled you all and not given too much away, but I digress.
The point is that no sooner had I mentioned the words post, done and should in the same sentence than there I was with my thumb pricked and signing a declaration in my own blood that said slip of the tongue would in fact become a reality, upon pain of an extremely eye-watering forfeit. Having considered the remote possibility that I may require some use of the last 4.5% of my remaining fertility, here I am.
So how does the Ox get back into this side? I have mentioned in the past that I don’t necessarily see it as being an issue because I don’t see our players all being fit at the same time. I would also consider that some of the younger players, such as Gnabry, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere, may change the position they play over the next 3-4 seasons as their games further develop and as certain older players start to play less or move on. For the benefit of this analysis I will consider it as if we have all players available, and I have mainly focussed on those players who I feel are mostly in consideration for 1st team places currently. I have not taken into account any additions in January, as that is too speculative.
For me the main aspect to consider is the other players we have in the squad and what their best positions are currently. What are the main strengths of a particular player in what they can bring to the team and how it affects our system of play. We do have many players who are adaptable to two or maybe even three positions, but I will focus on where I feel they can offer the most to the squad currently.
There are only 5 positions to be filled between the back 4 and lone striker and my list of possibilities reads as follows :
Flamini, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky, Cazorla, Ozil, Ramsey, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gnabry, Podolski.
That is some list and comprises 11 players for 5 positions, and is particularly heavily loaded in the attacking midfield department, so how do we get them all playing regularly? Are we actually overloaded with too many similar style players that leaves us unbalanced? One big question is would any of you be happy to see any of the players on that list leave the club? I feel that if we get the players positioning right with our current system then it doesn’t necessarily have to become a problem.
I feel we currently like to play with 2 deeper midfielders behind 3 attacking midfielders behind the lone striker. With regard to the deeper defensive two I feel we play with one as more a pure holding midfielder, and the other one who has more licence to go forward or be a bit more box to box, as long as they don’t lose sight of their defensive responsibilities. I feel this latter defensive role is very similar to the role played by Schweinsteiger at Bayern, and is a role I would like to see Wilshere play currently. I actually feel Jack is a very good attacking central midfielder also and may move more into this role later on. I do however feel that Jack is the best midfielder we have to bring the ball out from deeper midfield and has the best blend of defensive and attacking attributes to make him the most suited to the box to box role. With the attacking midfield area so heavily loaded I would prefer to see Jack, at least for now with us (England being another matter), play in the deeper 2 in a rotating combination with Arteta and Flamini.
That brings us to the tricky area of the attacking midfielders. Three positions and 8 players left from the list. Many may not agree with this but I would immediately remove one from that list and state that, when fit again, Podolski should battle it out for the strikers role and prove he can play this position at the highest level. His natural finishing ability means he has the potential to be world class in this role, so it is down to him now to step up and stop Arsene reaching for the cheque book again. If that were to happen I would fear for his future with us, and I do feel the clock is ticking on this becoming a reality.
This leaves us with the following for the 3 attacking positions behind the lone striker :
Rosicky, Cazorla, Ozil, Ramsey, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gnabry.
Although many of these players are adaptable to where they play in the attacking roles I feel that the first 4 would be more classed as attacking central players while the latter 3 have attributes that would class them as attacking wider players. I think Theo is nailed on to continue as an attacking wide right player and he will be heavily utilised when fit. Some would prefer to see Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry in central roles but with the list of players we have for this role is it really feasible currently. Both of them are also far more natural at giving true width and directly taking on full-backs which is an area that our squad is slightly limited in. When played wide I have a personal preference for AOC to play from the left, where he can either take on the full-back outside or cut in on his dangerous right foot.
AOC, and also Gnabry, are young and have time on their side and can easily switch to a different role even some 5 years down the line. Rosicky is 33 and Cazorla 28 (29 in December), while AOC and Gnabry are 18 and 20 respectively. There is plenty of time for them to switch to a central role later, if that looks the best option, as older players start to vacate these positions.
Against Dortmund we seemed to play with predominantly 3 attacking central midfielders behind the lone striker. Without the natural width we didn’t really stretch them and made it easier for them to compress the space centrally. We were reliant on the full-backs providing the attacking width which didn’t happen to great effect this time. With it not quite working, and Gnabry probably still being considered slightly on the young side for a game of this magnitude against that level of opposition, I feel we really missed the option of AOC, and also Walcott, to change the lines of attack and give us that different option. Once you assess the squad in this way I do feel that AOC, once fit, should still have an important and regular role to play in our first team.
Written by GoonerB