Festive Season: Time to Shine for Hayden, Akpom, O’Connor and M-N!


Interestingly, now attention is turning back to our Newcastle game: stories of who might miss out have even more relevance to the use of substitutes on Saturday and beyond…

If Koscielny and Monreal both fail fitness tests then Stefan O’Connor could be on the bench to cover Chambers in the middle. The 20 minutes he had on Tuesday night, in his right position, would have been a great time to see how well he could play alongside Mertersacker? Heaven forbid, but he might be in line to replace Per himself, as he must be due an injury as our fate starts to look for a fresh victim. Let’s face it; there are very few untouched souls out there.

Everybody is assuming Gibbs will be fit … what if….
Come to think of it, both Debuchy and Flamini came off, the latter we assume was for carding issues. But if there was a physical problem, perhaps Kamara should have started? At least Em’an’en got a good 45minutes and would be good cover for OX, who apparently is one of the few to be involved in every game so far?

Of course the bigger question will be about Podolski: Super sub or start and replace?
In a 4-3-3 line up it is easier to slot him in on the left side, although less flexible across the front line viz a viz Alexis, Welbeck, and Ox, and it puts more pressure on the Giroud/Welbeck situation. The three in behind is more or less a case of who is alongside Ramsey now 😀
I guess, Cazorla over Ox would be favourite for the creative role, and Flamini for the defensive one?
That would leave Ox resting on the bench, but that might not be a bad thing…

Then we get back to the back 5, where I guess on Woijech and Per are the only certainties?
Debuchy, with no repercussions after a long lay off, Chambers if Kos misses out, and Gibbs.
That would seem the most likely set up.

However, these thoughts got me thinking about the bigger picture of games to come? I said earlier in the week I thought we need at least three young players to step up and create a larger number of players to choose from …

The bench will tell us more about how AW plans to take us through the hectic schedule to come. Will it be a narrow group that take the bulk of the load, or will we see the odd body of youth getting an airing? This Newcastle game offers more scope for youth over experience than the Liverpool one, but what will follow then is about six games over the next two weeks. I would suggest then it will be a case of two shadow teams: one game with the bulk of stars, the other with a few, and benches of ‘resting’ players, and an assortment of fringe players hoping to take their chance to prove themselves. Even the FA Cup game will not be a respite, unless AW puts all his eggs on maintaining a league challenge…

So I come back to the bench for Saturday, and benches beyond that, and see who the fringe players are and who might get used at some point:

In goal we can assume that Ospina will push past Martinez to the 2nd/alternative spot.

The CB line up has three contenders; Ajayi, Hayden, and O’Connor, with the alternatives of Chambers and Monreal, when they are not being used in their respective full back roles.

Left back is the weak spot if Monreal and Gibbs are out injured. O’Connor was thought to be the cover for Bellerin on Tuesday, but that never materialised; still, he looks the best option in the absence of B54.

Right back is less of a worry, in so far as we have three. Debuchy, Chambers,and Bellerin in that order.

Defensive midfield is the sensitive area. Arteta and Flamini are the primary choices, but both will find games with short breaks between could be a problem. I have made no secret that Isaac Hayden will likely fill one of these roles, permanently. Hopefully his return to training has gone smoothly and he should be ready for the Liverpool game. It will be a tough introduction, but if he shines, as I suspect he will, then he will see the bulk of the following six games. We do have Chambers, again, as one option, or the untried Kamara on the list to play the main or sole defensive player. The B2B option, again behind the ArtFlam experienced pair, and Ramsey who is likely to command this position if his return to form holds, but Maitland-Niles looks to have done his case no harm at all to be the go-to sub whenever needed.

Attacking midfielders will be strengthened further with the hopeful return of Walcott, back in training this week. Ox, the experienced Rosicky, the ever present Alexis, Podolski, Campbell…. And let us not forget the emerging talent that is Serge Gnabry. He too needs game time, and could prove very useful over the next three weeks, and beyond?
So this is an area we should be okay if rotation is used to best effect …starting with this coming game by giving Ox the day off: he has earned it.

Creative midfield we are struggling. In the absence of Ozil, and longer term Wilshere, Cazorla is carrying the load. Even by using others who open up defensive in different ways, like Alexis, Ox, and Rosicky, there may be occasions where, even if only from the bench, the likes of Matland-Niles, and the talented Zelalem will be needed?

Up front, with the strikers, it tends to be more about balance. The ability to work well with those around them, and Giroud stands out as the one that others can play well with. Welbeck offers a different approach with his work rate. Podolski with his strike rate, Alexis for gladiatorial approach, and Walcott with his pace. in theory we should not need to worry in this area … but it is a team game and they have to work as a unit amongst themselves, and with the midfield, and when needed, helping the defence. They also need to be more clinical when chances come their way. Enter Chuba Akpom. Blessed with pace, grace, and power that show glimpses of Thierry Henry. If he puts it altogether his career will take off big time. For now, though, he needs to take any opportunity he gets this season and use it to improve in the areas where he is weakest, and still learning … Because I confidently predict next season the others will be lucky if they can oust him from a No 1 starting role.

So my young players that will make a difference, if called upon, are:
Isaac Hayden
Chuba Akpom
Ainsley Maitland-Niles aka ‘Em’an’en’
Stefan O’Connor at CB

Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill – Get fit soon, your team needs you!
Semi Ajayi, your turn will come. Keep working, time is on your side.

Note: Serge Gnabry is experienced, so falls into the same category as Walcott: a very welcome returnee.

The future is ahead of us, but it starts now …
Keep the faith

Written by: Gerry.

13 thoughts on “Festive Season: Time to Shine for Hayden, Akpom, O’Connor and M-N!

  • Well Gerry, that all sounds like a dream… a typical Gerry-Steve dream, to me. 😛

    I would be surprised if we see any of those names play more than a fringe role over the next few weeks. There might be the odd twenty minutes of play at the end of the game for one or two, but not more than that imo. Of course, I could be wrong and you argue your cases well but I reckon Wenger will look for experience firstly and there are still plenty fit to be picked over the youngsters.

  • Great post Gerry, music to my ears 🙂

    As far as a ready and waiting youth team is concerned i think we are nearly there, still lacking in defense (much like the first team) but unlike the first team theres still plenty off time to realize potential.

    My set up would use the same attacking formation Wenger employed in the first half of the Gala match, changed to the 4-2-3-1 he used in the second half (unnecessarily in that instance imo) to kill off the game when needed.

    I think its important to play these young players in the position they have been developed in as it will be hard enough to win over the fans as it is, no more Bellerin at left back and O’Conner at right back please (who am i kidding with bloody Wenger in charge lol)

    Youth team;


    To kill the game off CC21 moved into midfield as an extra DM and O’Conner brought on in central defense subbed for Toral.



    Don’t forget the likes of Zelalem and Crowley who are still a bit too physically under-developed and young atm but will soon break into this team also.

    We are looking strong in the youth department Gerry i have to agree and hope to see some of them feature over this busy period, however with the likes of Sanogo getting a full 90 whilst Akpom sits on the bench i am not sure Wenger has the same notions as you or I mate 🙂

  • TA – With the exception of Hayden, I agree. Few will get more than the odd 25 minutes.
    The point is though, those 25 minutes rest for whoever comes off could be vital in keeping the squad healthy.
    You tend to assume that fragile bodies who are resting on the bench, will then play, and play again 4 or 5 days later. And by ‘play’, I mean play to their full capabilities. That is a risky strategy? All I am saying is that the option of having A M-N and O’Connor on the bench there would be a choice. The object is to make sure Koscielny for example does not turn a ‘slight tendon inflammation’ into a two month lay off.

    I think Akpom will get his opportunity, simply because those ahead of him are capable of putting in a duff one. He has been kept out of the Youth League games, but has had some success in the Under 21 games, and AW himself has said he is ‘very close to the first team’.
    I need say no more?

    Hayden, imo, has all the quality to be a regular player, injuries permitting. Apart from Ajayi, he is the best candidate to give Mertersacker a break? I hope Ajayi does get a chance though, as this will release Hayden for his true role, that of DM. That is where we are likely to need an extra body. He could play alongside any of the available main trio, Which would allow them to take a break. But, for you sceptics out there, it is a case of seeing is believing.
    To that I will just say, you will be a believer.

    Just food for thought, Chelsea, even with their enormous squad, look like drafting in R L-C for some up and coming fixtures …

  • ramthoughts & henry root – Yes, I was thinking longer term when writing this, and only remembered after I sent it off for publication.
    I did acknowledge this on the in a comment on the previous topic.
    But I am guessing that once you see an error you think you can’t be bothered with any blogger who makes basic factual mistakes?

    To be honest, it just shows how successful I’ve been in blotting out the Stoke game 😀

    But to repeat, what followed was more about the future.

  • Steve, here is me trying to keep ‘our’ expectations of youth on a more realistic level, then you go into overdrive with a full blown youth takeover 😀

    Music to HT’s trolling ear I’m afraid? The trouble is, like TA has said, we do get lumped together. You are on the Al K end of the revolution, whereas I want a smooth transition 😆

    The big problem with both your teams is that too many have yet to be tried and tested at the top level, and that includes Afobe. I just wonder whether he gets more time to play his shots at his current level, which he wouldn’t get in the premiership? Even my strong feeling that B54 was the player we needed in the last game, and for that matter any game where we are down to 3rd choice, he is still not in Gibbs’s bracket …yet.

    Again, O’Connor looks a great prospect as Rio Ferdinand ball playing CB some way down the line. At the moment I would say he is a late sub for Koscielny, with Per to guide him through it.
    O’Connor and Chambers would be a disaster, imo. Let them grow into the role. Isaac Hayden is different. You could put him on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and he would ‘think’ his way through it, as self analysis is one of his strong points. Which is why I think whatever he does when next appears in the first team, he will just get better with every game. MOTM before the New Year? Every chance … No pressure then Isaac?

  • Hi Gerry,

    Your points are valid and Wenger will have to do something to keep players fit. Love to see more of Hayden and it is noted that you rate him and Akpom very highly. 🙂

  • It’s a shame to have so few comments for this thought provoking post. It seems bloggers are more interested in shopping and competitions,… 😦

  • haha Gerry i wasn’t really suggesting a youth takeover lol, i was continuing in the “future times ahead” narrative you had set in your post tbh.

    I, like you, believe that presently there are only four players ready to get part time appearances to help out the seniors – CC21, Hayden, Akpom and Gnabry (maybe A-M-N and Bellerin).

    What i often find funny when talking to others is how much they agree with me when i say if not for Sanchez’s excellent performances this season then OX and Wilshere would be walking away with MOTM performances for most of our games this season. then in the same breath they ignore my calls for a few more youth products, forgetting all the while that OX and Jack are only 21 and 22 respectively lol. If you’ve got the skills you’ve got the skills!!

    If you gave me the choice of Podolski and Campbell up front or Gnabry and Akpom for a full 90 i would pick the later all day long. Likewise with the Flamini / Arteta pairing versus CC21 / Hayden.

    I just hope a couple get their chance over this busy period as you have predicted rather than getting passed over for a senior player playing completely out of position which is the likely hood i see probably occurring.

    Fingers crossed we will get the chance to show everyone what we have been talking about all the time, but i doubt it lol.

  • Steve, Ox and Wilshere are experienced players now and benefited from Wenger needing to play youngsters as funds were low… This has changed now.

    Your choices for the youngsters above experience and establish is just so odd. But at least you are consistent in your th11nking. 😀

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