Oh he already has!
It has been a very strange opening 3 months of the campaign with some amazing results and some dreadful ones. We have been stunned into disbelief both negatively and positively by our team’s performances, most strikingly in the space of five days with our last two outings.
Is the team taking shape? I believe so but when thinking about it there are two things that hit me. One is how swiftly the team has changed in the past 12 months and secondly that at present I would suggest there are only 2 positions not nailed down if Wenger was naming a Cup Final team now.
On the first point we have all moaned at the lack of signings made by Wenger and how desperate the need to strengthen but in reality it has happened beneath our noses with only 3 new additions. If we consider the team that won the FA Cup in 2014 and finished 2013/14 there are only 4/5 players from that side playing regularly now, 16 months later – Koscielny, Ozil, Cazorla. Ramsey and Mertesacker altough Per is debateable. If we consider even the team that kicked off 2014/15 with Alexis added even looking back 12 months it is only the same 5 plus our Chilean talisman. Indeed it would be easy to argue that this time last year Cazorla was far from guaranteed a starting berth.
The truth is that Arsenal have changed both full backs, in the case of the right back twice, both deeper central midfielders, the goalkeeper and finally this season the first choice centre forward. Six positions are regularly occupied by different individuals from only 12 months ago. Just let that sink in a minute and then think some more.
Ask yourself is there are more than 1 or 2 better right backs in the Premier League then Bellerin? Ask if there are more than 1 or 2 better left backs than Nacho Monreal? I was far from convinced by the Spaniard and honest enough to say so but now he is simply one of the first names on the team sheet. Those I sit with regularly laugh and remind me that I wanted him sold.
None of us I am certain are in any doubt that we have one of the best Keepers, not just in the Premier League but in Europe. Coquelin grows in stature before our eyes week to week and I for one would not swap him now for any of the players we were linked to. For those who think he is just a blocker and interceptor I have no idea which matches they are watching. It is his energy and tempo that is making the whole team tick, when they do.
The Frenchman’s partnership with Cazorla, born out of adversity, not planning, let’s be clear on that, has changed the style of Arsenal’s play and given us the strong midfield base we so long lacked. It is too soon to talk in terms of Petit and Vieira or Gilberto and Vieira but I am not sure any comparisons would be valid anyway as we have not played a 442 since those heady days.
Finally we have seen a change of the first choice central striker with Walcott seemingly demoting our top scorer for the past 3 seasons, Giroud, to Plan B. For this decision we can give Wenger due credit as it is a brave call but one that, the early signs are could be justified. The more mobile outlet in one fell swoop changes the predictability of Arsenal’s attack and plays in to the hands of Cazorla and of course Ozil. It will be a real test for Walcott to maintain his current form but with Welbeck returning I can see him covering Walcott for injury/rest and Olly remaining as the alternative approach.
So without further outfield signings in the summer window we still find ourselves with half a new team from the start of the last campaign and from my perspective only 2 positions still up for grabs or debate. There are perhaps 9 guaranteed starters and only Ramsey/Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and Gabriel/Mertesacker alongside Koscielny. Probably at present Ramsey had the spot and is more trusted than the Ox but what a lovely potential game changed to have coming off the bench. The Gabriel/Per one will be fascinating but Wenger strong words on the Brazilian seem to hint that he sees Gabriel as the answer moving forwards.
The only interesting decision around the corner is the role for Wilshere when fit and the end of the last campaign and the pre-season suggests he was definitely under consideration for the role that Ramsey and Ox currently scrap over. Jack is a more like for like understudy for Cazorla than Ramsey as well in my mind and has 2 years playing alongside Le Coq in their youth team days. The sooner Welback and Wilshere return the better though as both will have significant roles to play I am sure this season.
So with this much positivity what do we have to worry about? Only 2 things for me:
- Injuries to key players. Fingers crossed we are okay until the above players are fit and we need to take advantage while Man City are suffering.
- Wenger’s rotation policy – Our manager in my humble opinion has never been good at this. He tends to stick with a winning team and barely rotate or hopelessly over rotate/rest in individual games. The former has led to injuries and the latter saw us lose badly twice this season and in previous seasons in the Champions league
We have the squad depth to rest one or two players it seems without weakening the team as a whole but we do not have enough to change 4 or 5. For example change the keeper if you must for Cup games but then don’t make wholesale changes in the back 4 simultaneously. By all mean rest Bellerin for Debuchy but do not rest Monreal for Gibbs as well and vice versa. Feel free rest one of the centre backs to play Chambers who needs the pitch time but don’t sway both.
We have, by accident, injury and design ended up with a markedly different team than we had 12 or 18 months ago and this has allowed Wenger to adapt the way we play. The key in the Premier League now is consistency, without stating the obvious but that is consistency of performance, energy and selection. Selective rotation is essential with our squad so those coming in are used to the partnerships on the pitch and players can be rested but over rotation will be disastrous.
It is these decisions that will decide our season and having Jack and Danny back is key for it to work. Wenger needs to prove he can manage this rotation because what should be the secret of success had been his failure.
Thanks for reading