Hello hello you wonderful peers of mine. I hope you’re not too caught up in your own inner torment and moroseness as we hit the halfway point in the week. The bad taste of a weekend defeat may still be lingering like a little morning breath (despite having brushed your teeth to within an inch of their lives), but at least we’re getting closer to the weekend, in which we can rinse and spit out that taste and replace it with something far more satisfying.
I just hope the team reach for the mouthwash and not the toilet water on Sunday, because I don’t fancy having two weeks in a row in which Arsenal have stunk the place out.
I think it will depend entirely on where Arsène’s mind is at in relation to the team set-up. On Sunday he opted for Santi out wide and a middle of the park selection of Coquelin, Ramsey and Özil further advanced up the pitch. It didn’t really work. Santi came in field often and our balance was severely disrupted. Too many times Monreal was left isolated on the left and whilst the Ox was impressing on the right hand side (going forward at least), there was little on the left to get too excited about. which pulled Giroud into the space and as we know, left nobody in the centre on a couple of occasions.
That plays in to teams hands a little bit at The Emirates, because it means they can be more difficult to break down by being compact. All the technique in the world doesn’t allow for you to break through an organised, well drilled and relatively deeper-lying side, looking to hit you on the counter, when you set up as we did.
My worry is that Arsène might be tinkering with this formations and these players for a while though, because even if Alexis is fit to play from the start, Arsène will be mindful of overplaying him this weekend. He also needs to know what his options are if he loses players like Alexis through injury (ironically enough the possibility of that could increase if he doesn’t give him more rest time) for a sustained period of time, so I do wonder if we’ll start to see more of the accommodating of players in positions that are not as successful, like we saw last season towards the beginning of 14/15.
Last season we saw Arsène playing around with Özil out left, but we also saw Wilshere play in the wide positions, as well as Ramsey out on the right. In some games it worked, but personally I think that had more to do with the technical superiority of our players versus their opponents, rather than any kind of tactical master stroke. I’m old fashioned you see; players should play in their natural position.
The tinkering with player positions – putting square pegs in round holes because they’re a really polished and snazzy looking square peg – has never really worked 100% I think. I kind of get the tinkering with formations based on opponents, so at times last season when Arsène experimented with the 4-1-4-1 it looked a little clunky, but as players get used to a slight variation in playing style they adapt. But it’s the shuffling away from where they are at their best that I’m really not sure of.
Santi, for example, seems to only be shunted out wide when Arsène is accommodating another player and because he’s the most technically proficient at adapting. It happened a few years ago when Podolski’s Arsenal career was on the blink. But we’ve seen just how impactful he can be when he’s moved centrally and so for the life of me I can’t work out why he isn’t – clichéd as it sounds – the ‘first name on the team sheet’. Sometimes ball retention and having that guy in the centre of the park is vital to the success of a team, especially this Arsenal team, so what I don’t understand is why we didn’t have somebody in the middle of the field who can retain possession and release it without it going out for a throw in. In our team we have three players who just don’t seem to lose the ball: Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Mikel Arteta.
NB: I know that these players do occasionally lose the ball – nobody is infallible – but it happens with much less frequency with those three players.
So, if Santi and Mikel are not ticking things over in the middle of the park and Mesut is occupying a more advanced position, what is the outcome? Ramsey and Coquelin spraying balls around and the system not quite working.
There are many who think that Arteta’s days are numbered, but I don’t necessarily think that is the case, especially when you look at games like the one at the weekend just gone.
So why doesn’t Arsène just go back to the successful formula of the end of last season and play Santi and Coquelin close together? I have seen some people on Twitter speculate that Ramsey might have been given assurances of a central role; that Arsène is accommodating him and trying to build a team around him. That’s a possibility, but we have so much quality around the whole team, that I just can’t see Arsène building a team around just one player. When you have so many quality players, it just doesn’t make sense. No, I just think that Arsène knows his best 11 footballers who have the best technical ability, and he’s trying to fit them in some how. It’s ironic because he talks so much about balance in the team, that when we try experiments like last Sunday, it just unbalances the team.
One player that will bring balance is Alexis, which is why it will be interesting if he starts on Sunday, because I suspect Arsène probably felt he had a bit more time to play around with his team than what has happened. It will most certainly mean that a tough decision has to be made by Arsène: Ramsey or Cazorla? I hope he doesn’t switch Ramsey to the right and Cazorla in the centre to accommodate both in the team, because that would not solve anything in my opinion. He needs to make a tough call and choose one to ensure we have more natural balance and proper wide players.
Let’s hope he does.