It is make or break now for AR08 (picture from Arsenal.com).
Now that Arsenal went through a big transformation in attack during January, we have to ask ourselves what will happen to midfield and defence going forward. We will deal with defence in another post, so let’s focus on midfield.
The next 12-14 weeks will tell us a lot, I reckon. And when I say midfield, I actually mean the two normally deeper laying midfielders: the double-DM pivot. We have four to five players for those two positions: Wilshere, Elneny, Xhaka and Ramsey (and possible Maitland-Niles).
Elneny and Xhaka are Gunners for the foreseeable future. The former looks like a midfield super sub/rotational sub for Wenger and the latter has played every PL game (if my memory serves me right). This tells me Wenger believes in him. When I watched the first half against Everton again (and who hasn’t done so?!), I saw how tidy Xhaka was behind our attacking midfielders: always available to receive the ball and always looking for the best possible pass (without taking unnecessary risk, which is key in the deepest midfield position). He also read the game well and made some good interceptions when required. It is when we are forced back in our own half where Xhaka struggles a bit in terms of being that natural DM-shield (together with his fellow DM-pivot midfielder). For this he lacks that natural aggression and mobility and ability to keep hold of the ball under pressure (Elneny is better at this). So it will be key to find the right partner for Xhaka if indeed he is to become a regular in the DM-pivot.
The two players for whom it is crunch-time are Jack and Aaron. Who has not dreamed about both leading our team to titles from the midfield (other than 17HT of course 😀 )? Such promising talents for such a long time, but it still has not happened for them and the question remains… will it ever? Jack (26) and Aaron (27) do now really have to push on and fulfil their potential.
It is fair to say they are trying hard to do this.
Jack has had a good season and is staying fit until now, and what a blessing this is. His biggest contribution has been in providing us with an attacking core and emphasis in the UEFA cup games, and I have no doubt that Wenger is counting on him for this month’s European games against Ostersunds FK (and the same goes for Lacazette). Jack will be out of contract this summer and we have not signed him up as yet. I reckon I speak for most Gooners in that we want Jack to have his best years at the home of football and the sooner his contract is sorted the better.
Regarding Ramsey, it is a similar story. He has been injured a lot but his injuries are never for too long (unlike Wilshere in previous seasons). The problem with Aaron is that, like a big cargo airplane, he needs a long time on the runway before he lifts off. Once he is up and running, he is a true force in the team. Unfortunately, he then often gets injured and we are back at square one.
If there is one position (other than goalkeeper) where we need consistency, it is in the double DM pivot. Changing personnel in these positions means upsetting the balance of the team time and again. And I reckon that Aaron as well as Jack have to make Wenger believe that they will now be the core, dependable midfielders the team so desperately need. We cannot be too sentimental about this.
We need a stellar final third of a season by Ramsey – and this weekend’s hat-trick was a promising start – to get us into the top four and win one or two pieces of silverware. The same goes for Jack of course, but I reckon Wenger will want to give him at least another season given the circumstances. With Mkhitaryan signed up and money sloshing around in Gazidis’ pockets this summer, Aaron needs to grab his chance now. And there never is a better opportunity to make another strong statement than this Saturday morning when we need to mash the Spuds.