I wanted to broach a topic today that I sort of touched upon yesterday, relating to both Özil and Alexis and of course, there inevitable departures in either January or more likely May next year.
I think the first of the contract rebels of the modern era was Flamini. I’m sure others will put me straight and highlight players before then, but Flamini told us from January onwards that he wanted to sign until about late March time, before it became clear he was seeking for pastures new.
Then we had Nasri, followed by Henry – who eventually did sign only to leave the following season – and this was followed by Adebayor, then RvP, now both Alexis and Özil. With both of them likely to leave it seems inevitable that we will feel a financial pinch, but the more and more I’ve pondered this eventuality, the less and less worried I seem to feel.
Perhaps it’s because I’m getting a little older. I’ve seen so many players come and go at Arsenal since I started supporting as a kid in the 80s, that there’s been a point in time at which they all just feel like numbers at times. Kind of like when you’ve said a word repeatedly for about 2 minutes and then it loses all meaning. But with Arsenal players running down their contracts it’s not that the players themselves have no meaning to me, but more that I know that the team should be good enough without them.
What helps is performances like Chelski away. It’s only one game and lord knows we’ll most likely have Arsène revert to type and we’ll get bowled over in our next ‘big’ away game, but what I feel like it did is start the healing process of losing two great players in the team, because neither were present and the remaining players performed well. They were probably unlucky not to get a win.
Alexis is an individual talent. He is a star in a team. He burns brightest and as a result he stands out, possibly even metaphorically blinding other players, as they naturally look to him to do something. But there has been precedent for this set before. We had that in Thierry’s last season (when he wasn’t injured) at Arsenal after the last of the other invincibles side had been dismantled.
We had that for van Persie in his final season.
And I think we have that in this final season for Alexis. And do you know what? Each time there was another player who stepped up. Whilst the ‘star man’ was there you wondered who and how, but after the dust had settled on their departure a new player stepped up to prove their worth.
I think it will be the same with Alexis. Perhaps that man is already being moulded in the shape of Lacazette, but it’s too early to tell, only that he’s made a good start. He’s bringing goals to the team and if he continues to do so, the worry about where our goals are coming from after Alexis leaves is clear, because we’ll have a guy with a season already under his belt and adjusted to the league.
Özil is slightly different. His star does not shine as brightly, but he still influenced the way we play, although less obvious to those that don’t watch Arsenal like we do every week. It’s a shame that Özil clearly fancies a move somewhere else because he’s actually the one player that I think could slot in to a team and potentially also benefit from a non-Alexis Arsenal. Think about how Alexis demands the ball and naturally as a provider, Özil finds him with his passing range, more than anybody else.
Özil is not a player who craves that everything flows through him like Henry, RvP and Alexis. He’s a player I feel can slot in to a post-Alexis Arsenal side and who knows, maybe even thrive. But as we stand at the moment it just feels like he’s going to se out his contract and look for something else.
But we can find players who can step out from his shadow too. Aaron Ramsey could play at 10 if he could stay fit enough. And even if he can’t, we can look for a slightly different profile to Özil to play as an inside forward. If we are sticking with three at the back then we don’t really need a new number 10 if Özil goes, we just need two players to play as inside forwards from Lacazette.
So the worry for me is less how do we play without those two players, because history and hindsight has proven that star players can always be replaced, but instead it’s about how we set the team up with a structure and purpose that can beat teams like Chelski, City and United away. Sadly that sits outside of the sphere of player influence and it’s about how they are managed and as I’ve said before, I’m not convinced we have a man who can set his team up with a structure to succeed over the course of a season.
I don’t want this blog to turn in to a Wenger-bashing finale, but I just don’t think he will set his side up away from home like we did against Chelski all of the time; I just feel he will revert to type against City and try to play them at their game when we line up against them in November. He has shown that he can set his side up like that, I just yet to remain convinced that he will, which I hope to be proven wrong on.
If Arsène could however, set his team up with a structure and style that is clear to see over a period of games then yes, you could see how we can operate and be competitive for the league. Possibly without our star men. But until we see performances like Chelski away on a regular basis, I’m not convinced that we have found the formula for success, with or without big name players.