Today I start a new job, with renewed vigour and hope for a whole new working world, which means more opportunities and a chance to impress a whole new set of people. I wonder if The Ox is taking similar measures though, after he appeared on Sky Sports yesterday and admitted he might be getting close to the time when he re-evaluates his future.
In many ways I can understand and appreciate that. He’s had a stuttering Arsenal career for some time now and up until this point I’ve always thought that it was because of a lack of game time due to injuries. But he’s been fully fit since the start of the season and thus far, when he’s been given the opportunity, he’s hardly excelled. It must be as frustrating for him as it is for us, because some of his characteristics lead me to believe that he is the sort of player who could become a world class talisman. But he’s never had that run of games and now I’m wondering if those multitude of injuries in his formative years have caused damage in his development that he can’t get back at Arsenal.
The good thing for The Ox is that he is seeing a shining example of how a player can change in the form this season of Theo Walcott. As the last season drew to a close we all wondered who would take Theo off our wage bill for us, but he’s become an integral part of the team, reinventing himself and receiving deserved praise. So for The Ox, the situation can be the same.
Arsenal have a recent history of players who can surprise. Coquelin is the most recent example before Theo, but even before that you have Rambo and his superstar season. He may not have been able to recapture that since then – something I put down to fitness and team set up more than anything else – but it’s still a good example to show a player who we can all see is visibly struggling with confidence on the pitch.
Still, in the next week or so he should at least get one game against Reading and if Arsenal can put the Ludogorets game to bed early (I know I seem a little presumptuous, but come on guys), then perhaps he’ll get more game time this week. But it’s up to him to force it. As I said above, he has a lot of positive attributes – he can run with the ball, he’s better at beating a man than Theo, he’s got the energy – but he just needs to iron out some of the other kinks in his game. His defensive work is shocking at times and when the main requirement for an attacking player is that they track back and occasionally try to get their foot in, it’s not hard to believe this isn’t something The Ox can work on.
It’s funny because he’s still only 23, where as Iwobi is only a couple of years younger and yet seems to be given a little more leeway when it comes to his slack defensive duties, but that’s because he has only recently broken in to the first team. So the result is that many of us Arsenal fans are still using the ‘he’s young, this will happen in his game’. The Ox isn’t afforded that luxury because he’s been in the first team for about five years. He’s seen as a regular in the first team squad and so the approach with the elder Alex is that he should have ironed out these kinks in his game by now.
That’s a little harsh I think. The Ox has undertaken more ‘on-the-job’ training than Iwobi, but he’s still learning, so needs to be given a little slack. But he does need to find his confidence and belief somehow. He scored against Nottingham Forest and had a better second half that night. If he plays against Reading in a week and a halfs time, you’ve got to think that he needs a big performance to push him on the edge of a starting role.
Arsène always has one or two players who it looks to me like he feels like he needs to play them and they deserve a starting spot, but he doesn’t have enough places. This is usually characterised by the fact that a certain player will always be given a chance from the bench. At the moment it feels to me like that’s Gibbs. Arsène clearly feels like he deserves more time and so has been bringing him on like he did on Saturday. The Ox has been like that previously, but he appears to have dropped down the pecking order, not getting as much game time from the bench, which if I was The Ox I’d be a little worried about. So he needs to act. That probably starts with a barnstorming performance on Wednesday next week.
It’s all there for him, but it’s only he who can force change with the manager, so he needs to do it now.
What else is going on? Oh yeah, apparently Mesut scores those goals in training every week! Well, aren’t we all glad he’s doing it on the pitch now, eh? It’s funny, because I’m pretty sure he hasn’t got an assist so far this season, but he’s bagged a few goals already. That’s a preferable alternative to the assist for me, but I wonder if this marks a conscious effort from the German to be more ruthless in front of goal, or if it’s because of his position in the team now and the way we are set up. You can look at most games this season and his heat map shows him often occupying a more forward-lying position than Alexis. With the attacking trio rotating more and Alexis dropping deep, I’ve often thought it was Theo occupying the central forward roles, but clearly it’s a mixture of Walcott and Özil who are sharing responsibility. I love that. I love seeing lots of movement in an Arsenal attacking team, because all of the best Arsène Wenger sides have been those that move defences around. Long may it continue. They just all need to stay fit.
We play again on Wednesday, which means there’s little time to dwell on the weekend’s successes, with focus now on the Champions League. Let’s hope we get another win and keep this hot streak going.
Catch y’all tomorrow.