This is a massive summer for Arsenal Football Club. Vital decisions will be made in regards to front office, coaching staff, and player profile that should change the complexion of our organization as we know it. This transitionary period could well decide if we are on the precipice of constant Europa league mediocrity or evolving into the superclub we were promised by Ivan Gazidis.
As of today, the variables are plentiful and impossible to predict. We don’t know what system or systems we will start the season with. We don’t know if we will retain the likes of Sanchez and Ozil, or even Bellerin and the Ox for that matter. Just as important, will we be able to sell players that are on high wages that have stagnated under this current regime?
The last few months of the season have instilled an optimistic outlook for many. Slowly but steadily, there has been a re-adoption of positive footballing values that had been missing. It’s a personal belief of mine that systems and established frameworks are a more critical factor to success than individual players. Our modified team shape accentuated the positives of an already high quality squad.
There are a few players on the precipice of obtaining significant roles in our current system that had been previously occupied by established fan-favorites. Regardless of system, players in/out, and organizational structure (e.g. director of football) the proverbial “passing of the baton” from one player to the next is essential to the immediate and long-term viability of our club.
Laurent Koscielny to Shkodran Mustafi
Koscielny still has a major role to play at Arsenal, but it’s Mustafi’s time to own the label of “Arsenal’s most important defender”. Koscielny’s age and the chronic Achilles issues are part of the argument, but the most important reasons are stylistic in nature. Teams have learned to man mark Xhaka out of games and we now regularly rely on building play from deep.
Mustafi as our central CB makes our team ceiling much higher. His range of passing while being able to survey the whole field is critical in initiating our offense and breaking lines. He is able to carry the ball forward when opponents sit off us as well as press.
In the 10 games since implementing a back three, Mustafi has been healthy for three and started as our central CB in each. There was only one game (against Stoke) where the two were able to play together with Mustafi deployed centrally and Kos to the left. This tells me Wenger sees him as both the creative catalyst and reader of the game in defense moving forward.
Santi Cazorla to Granit Xhaka
In the Wenger era, Arsenal has always had a control center in the heart of the pitch that provided team structure. Vieira handed the baton to Fabregas, where it was passed to Song, Arteta, Cazorla, and now Xhaka. Each player provided a different value based on his skill set and surrounding squad.
Santi is “Mr. Omnipresent” who can read the game to find withdrawn spaces and provide central control. In contrast, Xhaka is a more stationary figure that surveys the entirety of the pitch. Santi’s technical ability and dribbling opens up games, whereas Xhaka’s ability to make pinpoint passes to any part of the field means everyone in our team is a threat.
Simply stated, Santi provides technical control while Xhaka provides a quarterbacking control. The re-installation of width, as well as having a plethora of ball-playing CB’s behind him, means Xhaka is our new “control center”.
Alexis Sanchez to ???
Despite only being deployed there for a little over half the season, Alexis was our best option at CF. Whether it’s the result of him leaving this summer or if he stays at Arsenal, Alexis needs to pass the baton of being the best CF option to another player. Let’s just hope it’s a big name, marquee signing instead of an internal solution.
I understand it’s an unpopular opinion but I feel Alexis’ playing style makes him one of the best wide playmaking options in the world but only an above average CF. His need for constant involvement as well as being a chief creator and goalscorer means his general position should be slightly more withdrawn.
Around early November teams began to figure us out with Alexis as our CF. Opponent’s defenses pushed higher because we lacked options to stretch the defense with Alexis coming deeper to find creative pockets. Ozil would often take on the responsibility of running in behind which doesn’t cater to his strengths.
As they round the bend on the track and approach the ends of their respective segments, let’s hope the baton is passed to individual’s worthy of restoring Arsenal Football Club to prominence.
Follow me on Twitter @dfresh10
31 year old based in the U.S. I am an elementary school teacher by day whose passion for teaching is only rivaled by a love for the Arsenal. I release a weekly piece each Tuesday that is oftentimes analytical but sometimes eccentric. Founder of the U.S. supporters group Syracuse Gooners (www.cusegooners.com). I enjoy interacting with any and all Arsenal-based opinions on Twitter. Have a younger brother who chose to support Spurs. Fielding suggestions for ways to disown him.