I had to pinch myself a few times; still couldn’t believe I was looking at Ozil in an Arsenal shirt…
But onto the topic at hand, and we really have an embarrassment of riches in our midfield (attacking-wise) and as I said previously, I really cannot see any EPL team having a better starting midfield than ours. Some may have more power in their midfield, but nowhere near the class that we have. The tricky part now is selecting the right balance of players we have available when all are fully fit.
This write-up is about the midfield, but let’s take a quick look at the rest of the squad, which mostly picks itself.
The Pole in goal… He really is a conundrum isn’t he? He goes from Schmeichel to Almunia from one game to the next, and inconsistency is not what we need to win trophies.
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However, when weighed against our current options, he gets the nod to start. I just haven’t seen enough of EV to compare him to our current number one, but I do hope that as the season progresses he’ll at least challenge the Pole for top spot because, as we’ve seen, Szczezny always plays better when his starting place is under threat.
On current form our backline again chooses itself. No way would I be willing to break up the partnership of Koz and the BFG! By the way, did you guys notice what a difference it was not having him in the team against Sunderland? Sagna and Gibbs to start as well. I really like Monreal but Gibbs offers just a bit more pace and suites Arsenal’s attacking game better. Sagna over Jenks any day, just too much experience to overlook. We do have great cover options in Monreal and Jenks though. Spare a thought for Vermaelen, injuries have really set him back, and also a great option for CB cover.
Giroud is really on fire isn’t he?? I did back him to get 15-18 premier league goals this season, possibly 20 but at the rate he’s going he could be a contender for the golden boot. Still too early for that, but undoubtedly first choice to lead the line. The 3 behind him also pick themselves. Cazorla, Ozil and Walcott. Wenger always prefers a ball playing midfielder on one of the flanks, especially away, as it helps us keep possession better, so Cazorla will start on the left. He and Ozil also possess the same ability to drift inside and wide, so they’ll interchange frequently, making them a nightmare to mark. Walcott is our biggest threat on the right and without his pace, we are far too ordinary on counter-attacks. I can’t believe that because of his misses against Sunderland some people are slating him again. This is the guy that got 21 goals last season and plenty of assists. He’ll start banging them in soon enough, and if we’ve learnt anything from the rise of Aaron Ramsey, it’s don’t judge too soon or you’ll end up looking like a tool. Podolski, when fit, will rotate with Giroud and I can’t see him replacing Santi on the left for a starting position. After all, if he wants to play as a striker, he’s going to have to sacrifice some game time to rotate with Giroud. Of course there will be rotation in the front 3, for example Santi will move back to the hole when Ozil needs to rest etc, but this front 3 would be the norm.
Now here’s where it gets interesting, and the selection headache starts. In our 4-2-3-1, who would be the 2 starting central midfielders?? Here’s my humble opinion:
Of the 2 central midfielders, one has to be a dedicated DM and the other a box-to-box player. So first the holding role. We can cut right through all the debate and realize that Flamini is our ONLY natural holding midfielder. Arteta has done a splendid job so far but it’s not his natural position. Some may argue that Arteta’s pass distribution is better, and some criticism of Flamini from the weekend is that he slowed the game down just a tad. I think he needs a few games to adjust to the pace of, not only the EPL, but of Arsenal’s game, because even compared to other EPL teams, we play a very high-tempo passing game. Also remember that we were crying out for an ugly DM? Someone who is just there to break up play; an ugly no-nonsense tackler remember? Well Flamini is ugly, and I don’t just mean the protruding mole on his nose; he is a crunching tackler, and we need that. There is a flipside; I remember watching the game and noticing how easily Sunderland kept breaking into our box in the 2nd half and I thought to myself “That wouldn’t happen if Arteta was there”. On the other hand, Arteta has been with us a while now, while Flamini just arrived. So would you give Flamini more time or would Arteta start in that role? Hmmm…. tough one… Flamini is the ugly, no-nosense tackler we need, while Arteta seems to have better positional play and a better reading of the overall game, which is really what you need in a holding midfielder, plus his passing is superior to Flamini’s. Tough choice, but I’m going to go with Flamini, simply because it’s his natural position and I believe the passing and positional play (which is not that bad for starters) will improve with each passing game.
Now the box-to-box role, and you all guessed it, it’s a toss-up between Wilshere and Ramsey. I know many people are sweet on Jack, and so am I, but for me he hasn’t become the complete midfielder yet. His driving runs are great to watch but it usually leads to nothing, and to be a complete midfielder, like Lampard, you need to be a goal scoring midfielder. At present, Ramsey is a more complete box-to-box midfielder than Jack.
When considering the box-to-box player has to be complete, in that he assists the DM by also breaking up play, is a smooth passer, can give assists, and when the team needs to push for a win, can score goals, Aaron Ramsey ticks all these boxes. His tackling stats before the Sunderland game were 3rd best in the league for a midfielder. He can dribble, pass, gives assists, his finishing is superb and he scores different types of goals. His movement for his 2nd on the weekend was sheer class, with the touch and vision to finish. For me, Ramsey starts ahead of Wilshere.
This does upset the expectations of many, as seeing the hope of England on the bench would raise many eyebrows, but logically, if you moved somebody else out of the starting 11 to accommodate him, it would really upset the balance of the squad. He and Ramsey as the 2 central mids doesn’t work as both want to push forward; we need a natural DM as one of those two.
On merit and current form, he cannot replace Ramsey. You can’t sacrifice Cazorla or you will lose creativity, and that would also mean Ramsey moving back to the wing which would completely ruin his current development. If you remove Walcott; play Ozil and Santi on the wings to make space for Jack you end up losing pace on the counter. Also, removing Walcott for any midfielder is absurd – which midfielder is going to replace his 20+ goals, let alone Jack who hardly scores?
So my starting 11 would be:
Sagna Mertesacker Koz Gibbs
Walcott Ozil Cazorla
This would also make for a very strong bench when all our players are fit. Yes I know, the likelihood of all our players being fit at the same time is like Bendtner winning the golden boot, and our current bench leaves much to be desired…. But that’s another write-up.
So there you have it folks, that’s my starting 11 but what do you I know right? Please let me know your starting 11, and please give reasons why. For example, if you would squeeze Wilshere in there, who would you take off, and how would that affect/improve the squad tactically? I look forward to reading your thoughts!