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

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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

Wish-list:
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.