You’ve read the heading and most likely said: “What an idiot. Everyone knows we need a screening midfielder, that world-class striker we’ve been promised, probably a world-class goalkeeper, maybe another centre-back but definitely no mention of a winger. What is this guy even thinking?” Well, read on.
I’m not saying we don’t need these players (mind you, I’m not saying we absolutely do, but this is a topic for another article). What I am saying, though, is that the need for these purchases isn’t pressing. We’ve bought Gabriel and Chambers, Ospina fares well, Coquelin does an outstanding job and few will deny Giroud has been classy this season. We also have some genuine squad depth, should we need somebody to fill in.
And now look at our wings. Or rather, let’s do this together.
He is probably our most natural winger at the moment. The number of games he’s played (despite spending some time on the sidelines) is amazing. He was a regular starter before Boxing Day madness began. Ox was right up there with Chambers, Mertesacker, Cazorla and Sanchez in terms of minutes played and this certainly hints at Wenger viewing him as a starter as well.
And Oxlade is a very good winger. He knows how and when to hug the byline, he can get past opponents using his speed or sheer power, he feels when a cross needs to be put in or when squaring the ball is a better option. Ox has a powerful shot and, when he becomes more clinical in front of goal, we’ll have a ready-made winger on our hands.
But there is a teeny tiny little problem: Arsene sees Oxlade’s future in our highly-congested central midfield. Even when Rosicky, Arteta and Cazorla will be gone, we’ll still have at least Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil and Coquelin, and whoever else we may buy.
Thing is, however, Oxlade’s best games (Milan, Crystal Palace) took place when the Englishman was deployed centrally, so you can see why Wenger wants the Ox to play there. However, shifting Oxlade inside will rob us of a genuine option on the wings. Gnabry’s situation is quite similar in this regard. Bar playing time, he’s a mini-version of the Ox for me, yet Arsene craves to deploy Serge in central midfield. Sigh.
Much like Oxlade (or is it the other way around?), the Chilean ticks all the right boxes when playing on the wing. He’s quick, he can find his way out of tight spots, and he’s hard to push off the ball. He tracks back to help defenders out and, basically, he’s a really good winger.
Unlike Oxlade, though, Alexis drifts inside more often and his finishing ability is much better. He’s, currently, our left winger of choice, but is it his natural position, will he remain there in the long term? We all know we bought Alexis to play central striker, Wenger himself said the magical words in August. When asked whether Sanchez will be able to stand in for an injured Giroud, Arsene answered:
Can he (Alexis) can play up front for 3-4 months?
“For three or four months? He can play there his whole life. I bought him to play as a striker, not to play only on the flanks.”
There you have it. And though it’s subject matter for a whole new article (thesis, maybe) of whether or not we should change our Giroud-oriented target-man system and tailor it to Alexis and his style of play, I’m not sure Sanchez is our stonewall left winger in the long run. In fact, I’m quite certain he isn’t.
Will he even be with us next season? I personally doubt it highly. If he can’t find his way into a team without Ozil and with a half-dead Sanchez, his case is a lost one. Besides, he is not your typical winger. He drifts inside all too often, he exposes his right-back regularly and he doesn’t exactly possess the physique or cunning of Alexis and/or Oxlade. Theo’s weapons are his speed and sense of positioning, but his all-round game leaves much to be desired. It won’t surprise me in the slightest to see him go in the summer. It would be a sad moment, I remember the day we signed him and I can’t picture Theo playing for someone else. Unfortunately, its how life goes. You either adapt to new reality or you miss out on it.
Not a winger for me, sorry and despite Arsene’s tendency to utilise Danny on the flank, I think the Frenchman doesn’t see Welbeck’s future there. To me it looks like we have a young Giroud on our hands, only with more pace!
Welbeck is unlikely to power his way through on the flank, even more unlikely to pull off a skill move to get by his opponent and, finally, he drifts inside more often than Sanchez and Walcott combined.
And look, I have no problem with that. I really think Danny will become our next centre-forward. His first touch has already vastly improved, he will have plenty of time to iron out his finishing and positioning (and his overall ability to serve as a springboard for attacks) while Giroud is the main man. For now, playing on the wings can benefit Welbeck, but I don’t see him there in the long-term.
If we can call Walcott’s case a res judicata, then what can we say about Poldi? I’m prepared to bet a fiver the Hashtag King will leave us in the summer. I should probably look what William Hill can offer me on this one.
Even if we assume the German will stay (don’t laugh), what does he bring to the table? Finishing? How about 13 games without a goal in Serie A? That is from 11 starts mind you, not some bit-part involvement.
Positioning? But Poldi doesn’t play close to the byline. He plays in a narrow corridor between a winger and a striker. He would be a good player to have around in a 4-4-2, if we used one.
Technique? Aha. Helping out full-backs? Like hell. Pace? This is getting ridiculous, perhaps I should stop.
His situation is only marginally better than Poldi’s and probably worse, than Walcott’s. The Costa-Rican spent three seasons on loan, had a couple of good games during the World Cup (as a CF, mind you), returned to Arsenal to sit on the bench for half a season and was subsequently shipped out on yet another loan.
True, Joel has put pen-to-paper on a new deal, but I do wonder whether it’s because we are protecting our investment rather than demonstrating belief in Campbell’s future with us.
Let’s say he does have a future. In this case, I’m inclined to say he’ll be behind both Sanchez and Oxlade in the pecking order, maybe even Gnabry. However, I think Campbell possesses some valuable qualities and, if we opt to keep him, fine-tuning these can result in us having an extra winger.
Campbell is fast, he’s hard to push off the ball and if he works on his passing and decision-making, then who knows. I’d say he’s still in the process of developing into a reliable player. Question is, will we be willing to see this process through?
I have almost forgotten about our little Magician, but I had a reason to: it doesn’t look like Santi will again be shifted out wide. He was magnificent under the striker in his debut season (didn’t he score 12 goals without any pens among them?), then faded a bit during his second season. Though some may call it the usual “second season syndrome”, I tend to think Santi was less influential exactly because he was asked to play wide. I know it was his position in Malaga, maybe the physicality of the Premier League rendered him less effective on the wing.
Whatever the reason, it looks increasingly unlikely Cazorla will be asked to fill in on one of the flanks on a permanent basis now. He excelled under the striker when Ozil was out (and got two player-of-the-month awards for his trouble) and then moved even deeper infield after we were hit with an injury crisis. Right now Santi may be behind Ramsey in the pecking order (MAY be), though whether he is behind Wilshere is another question entirely. With Jack set to return after the break, I’ll guess we’ll have the answer soon enough.”
Have I managed to convince you we really need a winger this summer? If you ploughed through all of the above, then I probably have.
Right now we have only two players who tick all the right boxes (Alexis and Oxlade) and both could be deployed elsewhere even next season. Unlikely, but you get the idea.
That’s it for now. Look sharp for other articles on GT.