Hello fellow Gooners, it’s me…again!
Double session this week, like the one some of our players would deserve after the horror show last Sunday.
Alan Pardew and Crystal Palace are not far away, hence I tried to imagine how Arsène Wenger could spread his men across the pitch: it’s safe to say that some things didn’t really work during the opening game, so I would expect some changes from the manager; this doesn’t necessarily imply changes in personnel but surely adjustments in positioning and approach.
In my humble opinion, the two aspects of our game requiring assessments were:
- Lack of width
- Lack of coordination in midfield
I’m not telling you anything new by saying that central midfield looked way too congested against West Ham, players were walking on each others’ feet and closing each others’ spaces: Santi Cazorla drifted from the left, Aaron Ramsey surged from a deeper position and Mesut Özil found little space to move in and create chances.
The three of them ended up in the very restricted area in front of the penalty box, where Oxford, Kouyaté and Noble could easily suffocate any initiative.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the only player to keep his feet next to the by-line and was our most dangerous player: coincidence?
Despite facing a very good opponent in Cresswell, our man was able to find spaces in the final third and often created numerical advantage in his area, forcing one of West Ham’s central midfielders to move out of position and cover his full-back.
That never happened on the opposite flank, where Nacho Monreal was too shy and none of our men really attempted to get past Tomkins – perhaps the most vulnerable element of West Ham defensive line. On the top of that, we were chaotic in our passing and movement, often lacking coordination in the middle.
The combination of Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey didn’t work, with the latter bombing forward too often and leaving the former with no passing options and too exposed defensively – which brings us to point #2.
With a midfield trio of Jedinak, McArthur and Cabaye likely to be sitting in front of the back-four, Crystal Palace are built to reduce spaces around the box and pick his quick wingers on a counter, when full-backs are overlapping; it’s a very old plan that seems to work very well against the Arsenal, it is going to be very interesting to see how Arsène Wenger responds to that.
Our midfielders are likely to be under pressure at Selhurst Park, it’s going to be very important to keep hold of the ball and pass it around in a very accurate way; the final third is likely to be overcrowded, once again, and we will need players able to stretch Palace’s defensive line to create spaces in the middle.
How do we solve those issues?
- Play actual wingers on the wings
- Go back to basics
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is in excellent form and will surely keep his place in the starting XI, but in which position?
If Alexis Sanchez was fit there wouldn’t be any debate: the Chilean on the left side and Chamberlain on the right side of Mesut Özil would be the obvious choice; the problem is that Alexis is just back from holidays and should not be rushed back, which leaves us with only youngsters or makeshift wingers.
What to do, then?
Playing Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on each flank? That would be a very bold statement, especially against a team whose play is mainly based on counter attacks from the wings. I’d rather be more conservative and deploy another winger, instead of Theo Walcott.
It would be a long shot but why not playing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at left-winger and Hector Bellerín at right-winger? The young Spaniard is fit after his light injury and would make a better choice compared to Theo Walcott, whose defensive work rate is always a bit suspect.
He was raised like a winger and slowly transformed into a right-back, he surely remembers how to take on an opponent and make the most of the ball in the final third!
With him and Chamberlain on the flanks, we would surely exploit those areas and make sure our full-backs aren’t too exposed, since both have enough stamina and discipline to help them defensively.
Think about it, Arsène…
Let’s move to point two, now.
We have plenty of options through the middle, a lot of possibilities we need to exploit to make sure our team has the right platform to both stabilize the defence and create chances.
As I said before, in my view the partnership Coquelin-Ramsey doesn’t work and I fully expect Arsène Wenger to move Santi Cazorla alongside our French defensive midfielder and try to dictate the tempo of the game; Santi Cazorla is the perfect man to ease pressure on both our defensive line and Francis Coquelin, in a similar fashion of his majestic display at the Etihad Stadium last year.
Aaron Ramsey has plenty of qualities but he’s a pure box-to-box midfielder who likes a run forward, it would be atrocious to kill his instincts and ask him to pass the ball around from a deeper position. The Welshman is becoming (again?) quite a divisive figure among supporters, his tendency to shoot from almost everywhere on the pitch frustrates a lot of fans as does his perceived selfishness.
I’m still not sure about the guy, he doesn’t fit into our current system when alongside Le Coq but he’s too much quality to be left out, especially with his incredible combination of attacking and defensive skills. I see a long term solution with a kind of taller, quicker, stronger version of Mikel Arteta sitting in front of our back four and Aaron Ramsey (or Jack Wilshere) freed to bomb forward, but it’s not for today.
I feel the team needs to be reassured now; I’d go back to the usual set-up and play Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla in the middle, with the former no longer forced to attempt long-range passes across the pitch and relieved on his defensive duties by a man actually next to him, not 20-yards ahead.
See you on Sunday, when the team is announced and Arsène Wenger is fielding the same, exact XI that lost against West Ham…!!
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.