After reading Alex’s blog on Sunday and some of the other blogs this week from David Glicksman, Petit’s Ponytail and Steve Wellman, there are a few points that I’d like to raise about the transfer window and some of the positions that the Club has taken with regards to the squad.
I was one of the few who said we wouldn’t get a striker – I was proven correct on that point! However, in light of the true nature of Welbeck’s injury being revealed and the recent surgery to correct this problem, surely it was a poor choice on the Club’s part to loan out Chuba Akpom to Hull when they must have suspected that Welbeck would be out for considerable time? David brought this up in his blog too and I feel that it’s a pertinent topic. I think that this could have been the season for Akpom to stake a place in the first team, possibly at the expense of Theo Walcott. None of us have seen Akpom in more than brief flashes in some pre-season matches and a few substitute performances with the first team so, yes, that makes him a mostly unknown quantity in first-team games – but, crucially, this makes him more of an unknown quantity to opposition teams too, which has the potential to have been advantageous to team performances.
We’ve all seen what teams do when they see Walcott on the team sheet – they drop deep and “park the bus” and that all but nullifies Walcott out of the match. I think Akpom would be a better player through the middle than Walcott, as he has played there for a number of years for the youth teams and reserve team and has more ability to bring in other players around him than Walcott. Walcott had the best form for Arsenal when he was played as a forward more focused on the right-hand side of the attack, where he’d get the ball quickly from Robin van Persie. Akpom also has more calmness on the ball than Walcott in my opinion. If Walcott holds on to the ball for more than a second or two before shooting, he almost always misses the chance in front of goal – his instinctual shooting (i.e. the first-time shot) has always been one of his strengths, but there often isn’t an opportunity for this when teams defend well from deep as there is no space for Walcott to exploit to get into a position to receive a pass from which to conjure a first-time shot.
Don’t get me wrong, Walcott is a good player – but for him to really improve, he needs to bring in other players around him more and not disappear in matches, like he has done on the few occasions we have seen him so far this season (e.g. after the first 15 minute period ended vs. Newcastle, after Mitrovic was sent off). It is my hope that Akpom will learn this skill in time too, but it will be tougher for him to do so at the moment as he is on loan at Hull with a different team and not at Arsenal.
The decision to loan out Isaac Hayden was a baffling one for me for a few reasons. For those of you who aren’t too aware of Hayden, he was one of the few defensive midfielders at Arsenal and is also capable of playing centre-back. As soon as Arsene Wenger took the decision to not buy a defensive midfielder, there was no way that Hayden should have been allowed to go to Hull on loan. Hayden is the only player at the Club who offers close to the robustness and ability to read attacks that Francis Coquelin provides, in addition to equal if not better aerial ability than any other option that we possess in the defensive midfield role (including Coquelin), something which should not be overlooked when teams quite often sit deep and attempt to pass long aerial balls around our shorter players (e.g. Cazorla, Monreal).
I don’t feel that Arteta and Flamini are real options here, as both will be out of the first team sooner rather than later and are inferior in terms of height to Hayden – yes, Arteta is very composed in midfield and offers near-perfect short passing skills, but he lacks the ability to run box-to-box with any degree of pace or stamina while Flamini is probably equal to Hayden in terms of passing but Flamini has the potential to pick up a lot of cards and suspensions.
I think we can all agree that Calum Chambers was a disaster vs. Liverpool, due to adapting to a new role at centre-back, a new defensive partner with some language barriers in Gabriel and a lack of match fitness – Chambers’ distribution in particular was dreadful. I think Chambers should have been loaned out to a club in the Premier League that had the intention of playing him at centre-back and giving him some experience in that role under possibly less pressure than he would have received at Arsenal and Hayden installed as the fourth choice centre-back as Hayden has played there before for the youth and reserve teams and thus is more well-adapted to the role (Hayden also played this role last season in the poor League Cup match vs. Southampton, where he was the only shining light in a dreadful team performance). Thus, with Hayden’s versatility, it is odd that he was loaned out.
Alex also raised an interesting point about Aaron Ramsey playing as a false 9 for Arsenal in the event of injury or suspension to Olivier Giroud. I am not sure that Ramsey has the consistency required for this position as he seems to either be absolutely brilliant (e.g. vs. Galatasaray in the Champions League with that goal, or the match away vs. Burnley last season) or really poor (e.g. the run-in late last season and through much of the season thus far). He does, undoubtedly, have the ability to score goals – we all saw that in the 2013-14 season – but, to be effective as a false 9 for Arsenal, he needs to increase his consistency a lot and not disappear from matches, in addition to taming his recently wayward shooting.
Ramsey is a confidence player and I’m worried that a few bad games playing as a false 9 would see him lose form for a much longer period. Ramsey also tries to do too many tricks and flicks and should rather try to play in a more stripped-down fashion in order to boost his confidence through getting the basics right. Ramsey is not ideal as a right-wing either, as he doesn’t look to push wide and cross or to take players on, but to rather drift into the middle to receive the ball – a decent instinct for a false 9 there though! I think his positional play as a false 9 would be quite good, too, so there are some merits to trying him out in that position should the opportunity to do so present itself.
Alexis through the middle would be a more solid option than Ramsey, due to the Chilean’s greater goal-scoring capability, burst of acceleration and his tenacity to win the ball back if he loses it, something Ramsey doesn’t demonstrate often enough for my liking. Alexis also has better aerial ability (see winner vs. Crystal Palace). The only question I would place on Alexis through the middle would be his ability to hold up the ball and bring other players around him to create chances – Alexis likes to run with the ball against opponents, trying to twist and turn past them, something that Ramsey also tries to do.
There has also been some talk about Danny Welbeck possibly being fit by Christmas (which was by the Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson I believe) – I think that is not likely at all, as this is Arsenal and we know that 3 months can be added on in recovery time to every injury at this Club we love, e.g. player out for a week with a cold is eventually out for 3 months after a double lung transplant. OK, I am kidding a little, but you all know what I mean. It is far-fetched to expect any of our players back early from injury and I expect the same with Welbeck. However, I (and most other fans) will be pleasantly surprised if he does arrive back sooner!
All that being said, I still think Olivier Giroud is our best option as a central striker at the moment – the midfield, however, need to play closer to Giroud and not drift away from him. Giroud shows a propensity for winning the ball in the air against most of the central defenders that Arsenal have come up against so far this season in the Premier League and I am certain that our goalscoring issues will be resolved to a degree if the midfielders stick tighter to Giroud. Ozil and Ramsey are two of the most guilty of drifting away from Giroud when they should be sticking closer to him to win the second ball, instead of letting it fall harmlessly into space for the opposition defenders to clear and start a counter-attack. I am fine with one of them drifting in order to try to make space, but Ozil and Ramsey both drifting at once makes it more difficult to create clear opportunities as the ability to lose the ball outside the attacking third becomes more prevalent in that circumstance and easier for the opposing defenders to deal with.
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.