The activities and fallout from last Sunday’s agonizing derby defeat at the Emirates might still remain unclear and unparalleled but there’s a certain fact already established: This side still struggles when they go behind.
That said it’s quite difficult to tell if this season’s opener was a one-off or a reflection of Arsenal’s recent frailties on home soil, dating back to 2014/2015. However, I’ll tend to tilt to the latter, despite Arsene’s men starting the starting the season similar to way they began the memorable 2013/2014 campaign.
Since the 4-1 drubbing of Liverpool at the Emirates in April, Arsenal have recorded just a single win at the Groove. On either side of the 4-1 victory over West Brom on the final day of last term’s EPL, The Gunners have struggled to break down resilient away sides such as Chelsea, Swansea City, Sunderland, and most recently, West Ham United.
It should also be recorded that in those games, Arsene made a couple of shuffles with his midfielders. The likes of Ramsey, Wilshere and Santi Cazorla have all taken turns on the wings. Of this trio, Ramsey has had the most no. of minutes from out wide but the boss has refused to deploy him on the right since Chamberlain’s return to full fitness.
Cazorla meanwhile, has operated from the left hand side in Arsenal’s last two games, and let’s face it, this has had more negatives than positives, with the Spaniard not having that all action effect and responsibility of retaining possession in the middle of the park.
But Arsene is obsessed with his possession experts and quite adamant success could be achieved with many creative maestros. Perhaps the boss could come close to eating his cake and having it if he decides to make an attacking reshuffle, by link-man-esque a midfielder in attack, in the frame of Mesut Ozil.
Granted, the German lacks the build, aggression and instinct of a hungry forward, but you would be mistaken to think there was a better candidate from midfield who could do a more effective job upfront, with the way Arsenal like to play. At 26, and in his third season in England, Ozil, Arsene and the rest of the club have high expectations about the influence the ex-Real Madrid man should have this season.
There is a subtle comfort and awe about the interesting qualities of Arsenal’s record signing. His link-up play, intelligent movement, deceptive pace, composure and excellent left foot connotes a certain degree of similarity with some of the attributes Arsenal’s previous left footed forwards possessed, while at the club.
However, like Arsenal’s current left sided striker, Ozil playing with his back to goal and combining at will with his teammates holds more significance than the number of times he hits the target.
Having said that, the German International possesses the accuracy to finish off trade mark moves, if he’s committed to the cause of frequently getting on the score sheet. His understanding with Ramsey (the best combination in the team) has always pleased the eye, but here’s the interesting part.
If there’s any player capable of getting the job done behind the striker, then it’s got to be Alexis Sanchez. In the Chilean’s brief stint as the club’s no.10 early last season; he displayed real verve and zest.
After all, if a player (Ozil) who relies on first touch over upper body strength is leading the line, it is only ideal for the teammate directly behind to compliment such a style with power and indefatigable drive.
An attacker as busy as Alexis will hardly get undone in a central attacking role, like we saw in his first few weeks in England. His final ball might not be as perfectly weighted as that of the German, but his chemistry with his fellow La Liga import would only get better, with the duo pressing and hassling in tandem. Of course if Alexis goes beyond his German striker partner the roles are can be reversed with Ozil dropping deeper,
For some reason, Arsene seems reluctant to field Chamberlain on the left side of the attack, but with the English man playing his best football at the club, he looks to have earned the right to operate more dangerously.
Like we’ve seen countless times with Alexis, playing a surging right footed player on the left affords him the chance cut in and pick his spot. However, a bit of dynamism will be added to The Ox’s potential role on the left, due to his ability to go outside his marker and make use of his weaker foot, which late runners like Aaron Ramsey and Alexis would more than profit from.
Arsenal’s no.15 is currently brimming with confidence and should fitness have been part of the reasons for hesitating to deploy him on the left, it must have been refreshing to witness his potential of asking questions of the opposition from start to finish, against a West Ham team that have gained fitness from extra Europa League games.
Taking Chamberlain’s burst away from the right would mean less of a reliance on a striker making near post runs and more dependence of a different kind of threat in attack Here, Aaron Ramsey fits the bill, in front of Hector Bellerin/Mathieu Debuchy. Granted, he’s more penetrative as a box to box midfielder, but as was evident towards the end of last season, the Welshman could be just as dangerous if his movement gets properly picked out.
This plays out well for Mesut Ozil, whose attacking union with Alexis Sanchez would only get better, while maintaining that envious understanding with Ramsey and also having a new partner to pick out on the left of Arsenal’s attack.
With such an elusive trio behind, the German’s play-making instinct would always be at liberty to switch positions and drop deep when needed, while Alexis and Ramsey take turns in preserving Arsenal’s presence upfront. This isn’t so dissimilar to Dennis Bergkamp’s role in his peak years in England.
Like the Dutchman, Ozil has taken a while to adapt to English football and has learnt a thing or two about the importance of aggression in such a robust league. He still doesn’t strike me as the finished article in any position in this league, which is why he would know more than anyone else about the need to take advantage of his height and chance conversion, to score him a competitive edge.
Of course an alternative to this with the same players would be to perhaps revert to 442 with Alexis and Ozil interchangeable as a fluid front 2. Either way we would be using the dynamism of Alexis and drawing the best from Ozil in my opinon and both leavs the Cazorla/Coquelin axis as a base,
NB – Just a suggestion
A young Nigerian columnist who loves to spot a hidden link. There’s no such thing as coincidence in football. Massive fan of The Arsenal and a little obsessed with tactics.