I know you are all scanning the Newsnow Arsenal news aggregator and other media to find out whether we have finally signed Elneny now or any other new players. I must admit to also look regularly even though I don’t expect Arsene to buy anybody this month (other than Elneny).
The key issue for our manager is not lack of quality in the squad but availability of his players. The loss to injury of Le Coq and Santi made us all worried about our strength in depth in midfield, especially with Rosicky, Arteta (till recently) and Jack also out. However, we coped really well and even managed to move ahead of our opponents during the busy festive season. Flamini has been good, Chambers offers a glimpse of hope as a potential DM and Rambo is getting better by every game.
If all players are fit there is so much quality available for our midfield that Wenger could give himself more problems than he would wish for by buying more midfielders. Let’s assume that Rosicky, Arteta and Flamini will all leave this summer as their contracts will end then, and that Elneny will finally be signed and introduced to the squad this month. This still leaves us with: Rambo, Jack, Ozil, Santi, Le Coq, Elneny, Chambers, Campbell and the Ox as well as a few youngsters who are showing promise either on loan or in the Reserve Team.
I reckon we have four midfield spots available, assuming that Wenger will regularly play a midfielder on one of the ‘mid-wings’ rather than two more typical wingers i.e. Theo and Alexis. This gives us more balance and defensive robustness, especially against the tougher opponents. Four spots for nine pretty brilliant, either established or promising, talents, and that is excluding the promising youths who are knocking on the first team door louder and louder.
If all are fit, it will be hard for Wenger to leave one of Rambo, Jack, Ozil, Santi and Le Coq out; yet, he cannot play them all, unless we revert back to 4-5-1-like possession football. It looks like Wenger has changed the style of play to 4-2-1-3 or 4-1-4-1, depending on how you look at it; therefore a return to 4-5-1 is less likely.
It all comes down to what we do with the box to box midfielder position – the one next to the ‘classical DM’. With Santi next to Le Coq (or Flamini) we have a lower team centre of gravity, as Santi is less mobile but very able to connect midfield with attack through making space for himself and playing a great attacking ball in a flash. With Rambo next to the Le Coq or Flamini we have a typical, Gerrard-like and Lampard-like, box to box midfielder who motors up and down to find space and fill gaps, and connect with his fellow midfielders and attackers continuously all over the pitch.
Ozil surely is our first choice man in the hole in 2016. The only one who would be capable of dethroning the bionic German is Jack, but for that he will need to stay fit and get in the form of his life, which we all know is a big ask currently. Let’s face it, a fit Ozil is a given.
To get the best out of Ozil we need a perfect balance between mobility and anchor points – even though these anchor points need to be mobile as well, albeit it less vertical and more horizontal.
The two anchor points above the defence are the holding DM – think Le Coq – and the holding CF – think Ollie. We could opt to play with a fluid/mobile CF or no holding DM but two all-round central midfielders, and Wenger has definitely been experimenting with both scenarios over the last couple of years. It would not surprise me if we end up without a holding DM or a holding CF as our plan-A eventually, or maybe even without both, but I don’t think we will see this happen in the first half of 2016 at least. What is interesting is that Elneny is described as a holding midfielder who can play football as well, which could be an indication that we are moving towards two footballing midfielders in the double DM-pivot rather sooner than later.
The big question for now is: does Ozil function better with Santi or Rambo next to the holding DM. Both have their merits and Rambo is the most complete midfielder we have in the squad, other than Jack perhaps. With Santi and Jack out injured, Wenger does not have to worry about this question a lot, but when they are all back it will be a challenge for him. We are, however, lucky to have such a quality dilemma to be resolved, although adding more midfielders could really complicate things. Competition is good but too much of it could become counterproductive.
I hear the likes of FL08 say that rotation is the answer to using the available quality as best as possible… and they have a point. If all are fit, it is still tempting to have an established first eleven in which some play almost constantly and others provide an opportunity for resting them. Most managers will opt for this as the benefits of a cohesive and telepathically connecting first eleven are huge. But, given the large number of injuries in midfield and the quality of players available, we really need to rotate more; and then do it in such a way that we don’t lose much, if any, of the cohesion and telepathy an unambiguous first choice eleven would bring.
For the DM role we have: Le Coq, Elneny, Chambers(?), Bielik etc
For the B2B role we have: Rambo, Santi, Jack and the Ox
For the man in the hole we have: Ozil, Jack, Santi, Ox/Iwobi/Zelalem???
If all are fit for say the Barcelona game (which I know is very unlikely), or our likely PL championship decider against Citeh at the end of the season, I would be tempted to play:
But I would also get excited playing:
Or what about:
Elneny, (Campbell), Chambers and the Ox, by working their socks off and starting to make a real difference are all capable of playing themselves into our first choice midfield as well, even though I have my doubt about the Ox doing this without going on loan for a while. On top of that, till at least the end of this season we will be able to play Flamini, Rosicky and Arteta too…. if they are fit of course.
Fine fellow Gooners, we are blessed with the available quality and quantity of midfield players and it will be hard for Wenger to choose his first team midfielders when most or all are fully fit to play.
What would be your first choice midfield?