Arsenal’s Midfield and Forward Momentum for 16/17 – 10 Interlinked thoughts ahead of the Big Kick Off

Alexis up top

Alexis up top

So having helped build up Gunners Town from scratch in 2013 I am now going to be writing for it more often. A regular column here along with a bi-weekly Shoot feature will be my blogging homes for 2016/17. So amid all the ‘will he won’t he splash the cash’ and do what we all feel is needed the new season is upon us and we kick off against Liverpool on Sunday. Whilst I like most fans feel we need more additions I am equally highly excited by what we have and our prospects for the new campaign.

It is far too easy to dwell on the negatives and ignore the huge amount of positive momentum we have as a club. I am not ignoring the short-comings of our transfer policy but ahead of the first game of the season I am choosing to highlight some more upbeat thoughts and views on Arsenal in midfield and going forwards…..

Xhaka plus ??

Xhaka plus ??

  • Arsenal have a rich assortment of midfield talent and options. Arguably our depth in the area surpasses any of our rivals. I am excited to see how the management blend the attributes of so many top central midfield stars for example. It is fair to assume that as our new signing that Xhaka will start but with whom and in what formation?
  • Many feel the Xhaka/Ramsey partnership will flourish as the Arteta/Ramsey did in 13/14 but having watched the Welshman thrive closer to goal for Wales I am far from convinced he will be used in the pivot. His strengths are better utilised in and around the opposition penalty area for me.
Mo and Xhaka partnership

Mo and Xhaka partnership

  • On pre-season Mo Elneny has made a strong case to partner Xhaka and there is much about the physical aspects of that pairing that appeals. There is no doubt that in the recent past we have been out fought and even bullied in that area of the pitch. Elneny keeps it very simple and distributes the ball swiftly and efficiently whilst Xhaka can give us the lengthier passing range and vision more associated with a Jack or a Santi.
Strong options

Strong options

  • Of course Wilshere and Cazorla are both in their own right potential partners for our Swiss addition and both can offer differing possibilities and options for the team. Wilshere as much as we all want him to, has not progressed due to his lengthy spells out and he is not in contention for this weekend. Santo on the other hand has looked sharp in pre-season and we should not forget it was the injury to the Spaniard last November that derailed our season more than anything. I feel this will be our diminutive talisman’s last season in but I feel he will have a significant role to play.  I see Santi in 16/17 as our Edu of 2002-5, never probably first choice but playing most weeks either from the bench or allowing rotation. Like Edu the fans will always be pleased to see him and never concerned he will let the team down.
  • The above may demote Coquelin to more of a Flamini cover role as I feel sure both Xhaka and Elneny are ahead of the Frenchman in Wenger’s mind. Le Coq of course will have other ideas and seems like a character to relish the challenge rather than shy away from it. Either way if he is the 3rd of 4th change in the defensive pivot we are in a good place.
  • Coming back to Jack Wilshere he has a lot to prove in 2016/17. He has to prove he can stay fit on the pitch and stay on the straight and narrow off the pitch. If he can do so he will then have a fight on his hands to force he way into the manager’s plans as a starter. As with Coquelin however what a delightful position for the management to have a player of his undoubted quality ready to push his case when called upon.
  • Assuming Wenger is to stick, at least initially with 4231 even without a striker addition he still has considerable creative and goal scoring threat at his disposal. Over the course of last season the stats may not back that contention up entirely but injuries to Alexis, Walcott and Welbeck for long periods do give an unfair view of our potency. I don’t want him to play 4231 but I can write about that later but suffice to stay I see no way that Wenger will deploy Ozil anywhere other than at central 10 and that means 4231.
Ramsey goals crucial

Ramsey goals crucial

  • The front 4 needs to score 50 goals and the truth is that the much maligned Olivier Giroud can easily score around 20 in the Premier League but he should not be left to carry the burden on his own as much as he was in 15/16. All the great Arsenal teams had multiple goal threats and Ozil. Ramsey. Alexis, Walcott and others need to up their quota this season. We know that Ramsey, particularly without defensive responsibility is capable of double figures and Alexis will match Giroud if he has an injury free season. The question is where will the Chilean be playing, right, left of centre?
  • My instinct tells me that Wenger will start Alexis through the middle on Sunday. With the correct supporting cast if this works for Arsenal Giroud may have his work cut out get back in. He plays centrally with a partner often for Chile but can he play the solo role for his club? There is no doubt he has the work rate for the role and his increased mobility will give the supporting 3 more options to pass through the lines and over the top. His hold up play with his back to goal is not what Giroud’s is but he can turn his defender which the Frenchman cannot. The key for it to work will be for his team mates to be quick to support him and in Ozil, Iwobi and Ramsey he will have willing candidates.
Iwobi and Alexis - The future

Iwobi and Alexis – The future

  • Ozil will not be available this weekend but I suspect Ramsey will be used in the 10 role with Iwobi on the left and one of Walcott, Campbell or Chamberlain on the right. Walcott and Sanchez worked well together early last season when the Englishman was up front but I feel Ox may get the nod. Whatever happens, you will note that for me Iwobi is now ahead of all three of the other options. It is a strong call but whilst I don’t want the young Nigerian run into the ground I genuinely see him as a starter now. His close control, work-rate, vision and finishing are all top draw and he excites far more than he probably should. Despite Theo’s apparent U-turn on his desire to be a central striker he has a huge amount to prove to his manager about his desire to work back as is requited in the wide berth now. Both Campbell, Ox and of course Ramsey are ahead of him and his role is 2nd or 3rd choice up top dependant on the success of Alexis for me.

 

More from me soon……

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