Will Lacazette hit the ground running in his first season? Is Arsenal going to strengthen at CM? Will Aaron Ramsey return to his form of the ‘13-’14 season? These questions, as well as the looming contract situations of Alexis, Ozil, and the Ox, have been the main talking points this offseason.
Now that we’ve had a sprinkle of competitive football to analyze with the Community Shield, I think it’s time to start thinking deeper. Given the developments this preseason and our current personnel, some topics have gone under the radar. Below are 5 that I feel deserve more attention as we start the ‘17-’18 season:
1.Does Jack Wilshere have a significant role to play?
It was only a few years ago that Jack Wilshere was England’s first choice at the base of a midfield diamond. The reason? He is a highly technical, highly intelligent footballer capable of dictating the tempo of a game. Arsenal has never asked him to be a deep-lying playmaker, maybe it’s time they do. The Wilshere we knew as a dynamic ball carrier that plays box-to-box may be long gone, so let’s ask him to use his unique skill set to maintain possession and keep the ball ticking over.
We are all aware of his injury record and to count on him as a first choice starter would be insanity. I feel Wilshere could offer many Xhaka-like attributes and be a suitable replacement for games he misses. Very much like the transition from advanced to deep midfield for Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla later in their careers, is it that crazy to ask Jack to do the same?
2. Will we see a fluid flexibility of playing formation?
In the past, our setup and playing style have been far too predictable and oppositions have exploited us as a result. Wenger’s identity has been with a back 4 with attacking interchangeability along the front line. I’d be shocked if he didn’t revert back to this style of play for a prolonged stretch next season.
Dare I say it, but the team that switched between a back 3 and 4-2-3-1 best last season was Spurs. As game flow and situation dictated, they were able to adapt shape and tactical approach. During Arsenal’s back 3 system of late last season, we only changed formation in the latter stages of matches when we were chasing a goal.
3. Can David Ospina usurp Petr Cech as Arsenal’s #1?
Contrary to popular belief, David Ospina is a solid goalkeeper. In analyzing the stats from Arsenal’s ‘16-’17 league and Champions League campaigns, there is not much difference in overall performance between he and Cech. A few notable exceptions were:
- Cech outperformed Ospina is average goals per game, .99 gpg compared to 1.5 gpg (Keep in mind, 2 of Ospina’s 10 appearances were the 5-1 losses to Bayern Munich)
- Ospina boasted better distribution numbers, 75% pass accuracy compared to 64% pass accuracy.
What Ospina lacks in physical stature and command of his area, he makes up for with his shot-stopping and his sweeper-keeping ability off his goal line. He is 28 years of age and therefore in the midst of his prime goalkeeping years. Will we see a new #1 emerge for Arsenal?
4. How do we setup or who do we play when Granit Xhaka is out?
Granit Xhaka is our structural focal point. Our offensive game revolves around his ability as a central, deep-lying playmaker capable of spreading the ball anywhere on the pitch. Defenses have to stay home on our wide options and strikers because of this unique ability which opens up the game for Arsenal. Elneny is a good partner for Xhaka due to his ability to find withdrawn space and be a close distance passing option when Xhaka can’t stretch play to the flanks.
I see three options when Xhaka is out:
- Jack Wilshere acts as a deep-lying playmaker with dynamism alongside (Ramsey or Ox). What Jack lacks in burst and lateral agility can be counteracted by the box-to-box engines of Ramsey and Ox.
- We blend a control type with a physical type. Santi or Jack fill the void vacated by Xhaka and pair them with Coquelin. It’s unrealistic to expect to see this in many games, but we all know how effective Coq-zorla was in years past.
- Arsenal play any combination of midfielders and Monreal at LWB or LB with the intention of tucking him in to solidify midfield. Nacho is vastly underrated in his technicality and ability to link with close distance passing options. He could be someone that we initiate our offense through on the left side of the pitch in Xhaka’s absence.
5. Has Bellerin stagnated since his breakthrough ‘14-’15 campaign?
The boy seems to excel in every area of the game EXCEPT providing consistent delivery and finishing chances. He only scored 1 goal in each of the last 2 campaigns and last season he saw his assist tally drop from 8 to 5 in all competitions. It should be noted however that he played a significant number of games with an ankle injury.
Bellerin still amazes me with his control in tight quarters, link play with teammates and ability to make repeat runs down the flank. His superior speed, when healthy, means he can afford to take more risks because he recovery ability is so good. Let’s see if he can stay healthy and add some goals and assists this season.
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