On the train home to London at the moment before Brighton at home tomorrow. Then it’s the international break going into what hopefully won’t be the usually melancholic winter of inconsistency and collapse.. we live in hope. I spoke recently on my Grampian Gooner blog about the need to trust the youth and a disillusionment with the current cohort, not least our two “star” players. It was encouraging to get the broad positive feedback from many Gooners on that, which made me feel I wasn’t alone in this. I think we fundamentally need to get back to our traditions and soul.
There are different themes to our season this year than what had been a mind numbingly predictable status quo in recent years. With Europa league involvement and an almost universal acceptance among Arsenal fans that we don’t really stand a chance in the title race, it’s kind of taken the edge off a bit. Expectations are low. But our expectation for regularly putting in performances is still as high as ever which is why the ghosts of Liverpool away back on the balmy day in August will take a while longer to banish for me.
The Europa league has meant we can enjoy the the development of quality youth prospects like Nelson and Maitland-Niles on a more regular basis which I’m definitely up for. However, what I’ve enjoyed the most is seeing a certain Mr Wilshere control games again with his natural touch, skill, vision and tenacity. Albeit against humble opposition.
Since the game in Minsk, the plaudits for how he danced around the Borisov arena have not just come from Arsenal fans. His touch and vision are sharp. These are Arsenal fans who might be slightly blinded by a nostalgic hunger for him to come into his own again. It’s probably a dream that every Gooner still clings to since since he burst onto the scene. Certainly I still cling to that but I’ve resisted the draw of nostalgia and tried to be objective about it.
Yet after a couple of full 90 minutes in the cup competitions and Europe, Wilshere is finally demonstrating from a strictly technical and ability point of view that he has the minerals to start in the in the league once again.
Like Ozil he’s in the final year of his contract at Arsenal football club. Our number 10, occupying the squad number his German team mate has long wanted, is increasingly giving Wenger a headache over pushing for a league start. Is it fair to say we can now start having a sensible conversation about this being at the expense of his arguably more illustrious and household-name colleague?
I can almost hear the Ozil fan boys screeching in despair at the very suggestion that Wilshere is rivalling him in the pecking order…
While I acknowledge Ozil’s talents as a creator I have always pointed to his status as a luxury player. The freedom in which he likes to operate has left us with gaping holes between the lines, especially in big away games when you simply have to adapt your game and be pragmatic. Coupled with that, within our current formation in facilitating a back 3, Ozil is not suited.
At the bridge a few weeks ago it was the most disciplined and robust away performance against the big boys in years. It was refreshing how well we were able to snuff out Chelsea via the regimented and focused performances of Iwobi and Welbeck and the tenacity of Ramsey. This is the blueprint we must adopt not only for the big away games but generally in the league going forward. At the end of the day the manager must start adapting to life without a player who seemingly doesn’t see his long term future at the Arsenal.
Between players like Iwobi, Wilshere, Ramsey and Welbz (once he’s fit again) we have the profile of a players who are flexible and suited to do a job as required. Against the firepower and improved creativity of teams like United, City, Spurs, these players can put the emphasis on the shape of the team over individual plaudits for being “here to create” or an obsession with assisting. As I said, I acknowledge Ozil’s talents but his narrow skill set as a free-flowing creator, however great his numbers are, is not what Arsenal need right now. When Wenger-ball is properly on song against lesser sides and rivals at home, Ozil comes into his own. You’d hope by now the penny has finally dropped in that Wenger can’t follow this across a season and certainly not for the big away games.
One thing that I’d love to see is a regular CAM at Arsenal who can break through the lines as well as dictate the game from deep. A player who will regularly track back and fill those spaces when needed. Ramsey has been doing this with aplomb of late. Yet Ozil is far more predictable in his slow build up. I’d also like to see a player in a more advanced CAM position who shoots more often given the opportunity. Again Wilshere and Ramsey’s more direct and dynamic approach offers that. These are players who I think are far more prepared to “do a job” for Arsenal when needed when we don’t have the ball – which is going to br especially important when we have to visit the blue and red of Manchester and Spurs in the coming months.
Ozil sees his role as exclusively occupying that definitive “quarter back role”. That’s great in a certain system which facilitates him but what is required now at Arsenal are attacking players who offer dynamism, fill the space when required and be disciplined.
The likes of Ozil in his final year and seemingly wanting to move on are pre-occupied and arguably motivated by their own impact when playing as much as the team performance. The worry is that Ozil will be more motivated from an individual point of view in being this assist king and “here to create” to put himself on the shop window. It’s this limited skill set which I think has meant that there hasn’t been any obvious or wide ranging interest from top clubs, given his situation – or probably as much about his ridiculous reported wage demands.
What also governs my thinking in prioritising the likes of Wilshere over Ozil and is a point which I think is as equally as valid as ability:
Wilshere is a part of the fabric of Arsenal Football Club. I want to see more players playing for the shirt.
I want to see youngsters who want to impress and are in awe of wearing the gun on the chest. I want to see senior players like Wilshere who have grown up with the club and will bring back our soul. Even if that means losing some of these big away games as usual, I’d rather we lost fighting. Wilshere is a player who views wearing the gun on a Saturday as a privilege, not a stepping stone.
Both Ozil and Wilshere are in the same position contractually. In the aftermath of the game in Minsk on Thursday, Wilshere made it clear he loves the club and seemingly wants to earn a contract extension. On the other hand Ozil wants to leave (or get silly money).
If Ozil were fit to start v Brighton tomorrow he may well get a nice assist. That’s all well and good before the mid winter collapse at the big boys away from home. Let’s stick with the Chelsea away blueprint and bring Jack to the future.
By Danny Coyle @GrampianGooner
North Londoner living in exile north of the border. During the week I’m a PE teacher.