Arsenal vs Manchester United, February .. 2014. We had just lost heavily to Liverpool and were given the chance to produce a roaring response against a team who had been having a poor season by their standards. Basically, the game was there to be won.
But we played a frustrating goalless draw and didn’t create much either, because we fielded this midfield/attack: Mikel Arteta Jack Wilshere; Tomas Rosicky Mesut Ozil Santi Cazorla; Olivier Giroud. The problem wasn’t the quality out there. It was the vision and there was too much of it, without any ‘blindness’ to search for. This was because we couldn’t get in behind their back four.
We were probably forced to do so due to the injuries suffered by Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, our primary sources for blind runs in games. But we would hardly have that same problem this season because we have as many as SEVEN outlets in the team. What that means is that we should always include at least two of these options at the start of every game.
Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez
Being his natural marauding self, Ramsey affords us the luxury of fielding only one outlet in attack. An outlet that is comfortable up top. After all the transfer rumours, that man would prove to be Alexis Sanchez, who’ll stretch the tightest of defences with his trickery, balance and most importantly, pace.
With Aaron and Alexis capable of making blind runs any time in games, we can afford to field the trio of Jack, Santi and Ozil all in advanced positions. This would mean all three whenever on the ball, would have options to release, rather than lay-off targets.
Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott
Perhaps one of the baffling aspects of that game against United was Wenger’s decision not to start Chamberlain, knowing we lacked runners at the time. Perhaps he wanted an outlet on the bench?
Well, thanks to the return of Joel Campbell and the improved fitness of Yaya Sanogo, we would be able to field The Ox from the start, should we find ourselves in the same position as we did in February.
For Theo, his return would signal the start of delicious attacking transitions, especially if he’s worked on improving his timing of runs. It is expected that he’ll start more with Sanchez than with Giroud this term.
And if we want to go into complete overdrive in some games against much weaker opposition, we may choose to include Chamberlain alongside the duo. Again, Campbell and Sanogo (who could also both start games) give us that luxury.
If available anytime in the season, Abou Diaby could be the seventh source of outlet in the team. And we all know why it’s best he remains the last resort. On his day when fit, he’s not only capable of making surging runs on the ball, but the Frenchman also knows how to exploit space off the ball.
We still saw that against New York Red Bulls where he showed his sleek movement and finishing technique, even though he moved a bit too early. A midfield combination of him and Ramsey with a holding player behind them could help us accommodate the trio of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud in attack once again.
Perhaps the player who’s also got that similar ability to cover ground but with the least quality to exploit space is Mathieu Flamini. Although he could always be used in (big) games where likes of Arteta and Ramsey are unavailable.
The role of fullbacks would also be examined more closely this season because we have a whole new set-up on the right hand side. Mathieu Debuchy and Hector Bellerin seem like the main candidates at right back and both are well accustomed to the modern full-back role in attack.
In the few games we’ve seen them in red and white, they’ve already shown us the benefits of having an additional option out wide. Options who’s could also get in behind the opposition defence. With Kieran Gibbs/Nacho Monreal doing same on the other side, hopefully the predictability of our game has gone with Bacary Sagna.
I’m looking forward to the big games this season, not because I think we’ll win every one of them, but because we are more equipped to field an XI capable of hurting any team. More importantly we also possess a strong bench to raise our game whenever we want to. This means any goalless draws or negative results we record wouldn’t have anything to do with fielding an unbalanced side at the start of games.