With a fully fit squad, we have more options for the right-hand-side of the attack in our current formation than any other position. Yet as we prepare to travel to Swansea on Saturday, Arsene Wenger has to choose between inexperience, no experience and playing players out of position.
The boss today confirmed reports that emerged yesterday, which suggested both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be out of action until after the international break, having picked up injuries against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday evening. He said:
Nothing has changed since after the game. They are out but the scans are today – it’s 48 hours afterwards. We hope they are light injuries, but they are out until after the international break.
So the scan results aren’t in but we already know both players will miss the next three games regardless? I suppose there’s still a glimmer of hope then, that one or both may make a miraculous recovery sooner than expected but for the immediate future, Arsene has a tough decision to make in terms of who plays on the right.
It’s been suggested by some that Arsene is considering playing either Hector Bellerin or Keiran Gibbs in a more advanced position but when asked who he’d pick, there was no mention of either:
(Joel) Campbell and Alex Iwobi (are options). Santi can play there as well but he has become very important centrally. The problem sometimes is that you can destroy two departments if you move one player out. We control the ball better with Santi in the middle.
The hope now must be that either Joel Campbell or Alex Iwobi can be ‘this season’s Francis Coquelin’, by coming into the side unexpectedly because of an injury crisis and performing well immediately. It’s a tough ask, especially when you consider Coquelin had been afforded far more first-team playing time in previous seasons and so was more experienced at Premier League-level than either of them.
But then Iwobi and Campbell were probably our two stand-out players at Hillsborough by my reckoning, and although that doesn’t say a lot considering our collectively abject performance, it’s still worth bearing in mind. For what it’s worth, I think Campbell will get the nod as he’s far more experienced than Iwobi but long-term I think the latter may well turn out to be the better player.
For one so young, the few times I’ve seen him play, in the Emirates Cup and against the Owls, Iwobi looks a very promising prospect indeed and compared to say Chuba Akpom, has better link-up play and is more efficient in possession, which in a pass-and-move style-of-play like ours, is not only crucial, but means he’s got a good chance of settling into our side pretty quickly.
The third option Arsene discussed above – Santi Cazorla – has played from the right previously in his career at both Villarreal and Malaga, but the boss has seemingly concluded he doesn’t want to disrupt our central midfield by re-stationing the Spaniard on the right, which I agree with completely.
And Cazorla has been speaking with Arsenal Player about his reinvention as a deeper playmaker with added defensive duties. He said:
The boss changed my position last season to play me more centrally. It’s a position I really like, though of course it means I’m further away from the opposing area so I have fewer chances to score. I’m finding my best form and I’m really enjoying the new position. You have different responsibilities. In terms of defence, you have to defend more and you have to help the team more in terms of making sure you’re well-positioned to ensure the players in attack can stay fresh. We need the likes of Mesut, Alexis, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Giroud to be fresh – so that means myself, Coquelin, Arteta and Flamini need to be well-positioned to ensure those in attack can perform as well as possible.
Of course Arsene has previous in terms of successfully re-positioning players with the likes of Lauren, Kolo Toure, Thierry Henry and even Mikel Arteta prime examples, but Cazorla has to be up there in terms of how well it’s worked out.
I mean, thinking about it now, it makes perfect sense. Cazorla’s passing, speed of thought and ball control makes him what Cesc Fabregas wishes he was as a central midfielder. Add the fact Santi has a better engine than I’d ever previously imagined and can be as gritty as as they come despite being small in stature, and you have the perfect player for the middle of the park.
Yet how many would have suggested the Spaniard for that role before Arsene assigned it to him? Certainly not Gary Neville, because you have to be seven-foot tall to play there according to him. Like Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, hey Gaz?