It was an explosive performance against CSKA in Thursday night’s Europa League encounter and this was in no small part down to the team selection and crucially the structure of that team. The set up gave full license to Arsenal’s attacking flair and most evidently to Aaron Ramsey. If we suspend belief just for the purpose of this article and ignore the injury to Heinrich Mkhitaryan, I believe we may have seen the beginning of Wenger playing two different formations, one to try and win the Europa League and another in remainder of the domestic Premier League campaign.
The thinking is in no small part driven by the inability of Aubameyang in the European adventure, but the Gabonese striker’s loss is firmly Lacazette’s and I believe Ramsey’s gain. I say this as from what I witnessed versus CSKA, as opposed to the Stoke match, strongly suggests it will not be a case of simply swapping the two main strikers for the two competitions.
What I believe we saw last night was a 4321 or ‘Christmas Tree’ with three central midfielders, two ‘10s’ in Mkhi and Ozil, given huge freedom and Lacazette as the sole striker. Having the three in midfield gave us solidity to a degree and protection when without the ball, but with the ball, it allowed Aaron Ramsey to do exactly what he does best. Xhaka stayed primarily deeper and allow Wilshere and Ramsey to play further advanced but whenever Ramsey wanted to surge forward, as he did with such purpose and effect, Wilshere stayed with the Swiss.
Against sterner opposition, the obvious variable is the switch made yesterday, with Elneny simpler, less ambitious game, being preferred to Wilshere’s higher risk play. For example were we to progress as looks highly likely and draw Madrid I would anticipate the same Christmas tree with Wilshere missing out, at least in the away leg.
Sadly, for Jack Wilshere, although he may get a reprieve this weekend with Mkhi injured, I feel it may be him to miss out going forwards in the starting 11 domestically. With little to play for but pride in the Premier League, other than staying ahead of the Giant that is Burnley, I see no reason not to play Lacazette and Aubameyang, with the early glimpse of the potential for that in the second half against Stoke. If I am correct and we see a lopsided 4231 in the league, with Lacazette, Ozil and Mkhitaryan behind Aubameyang, it will be Wilshere I believe may miss out. Ramsey and Xhaka will be the first choice starters in the 4231 with Elneny and Wilshere the alternatives.
In practice, I see the Aubameyang and Lacazette roles as relatively interchangeable but most of the French international’s good work against Stoke was, as I mentioned last time I wrote, Wiltord 2002 stylee from the right. This is undoubtedly I highly exciting and adventurous strategy, although we do have, on paper at least, games against lesser opposition. What it would mean, with all four attacking players on the field, is that we would have to see the other Aaron Ramsey. The Ramsey patrolling the midfield in a disciplined fashion with Xhaka and unable to foray forward as freely as the Europa League Christmas tree, minus PEA, affords him. The Welshman’s energy and fitness were astounding on Thursday as he continued to work back for the team. It always takes him a few games after injury to regain full fitness but when he reaches that level he is back to his best. Long may he remain so.
Therein lies my theory for two elevens, with only one different player, but with two wholly different strategies and approaches. The Europa strategy allows us to utilise Aaron Ramey as he needs to be utilised and where he is at his finest, whereas the Premier League approach allows us to see how Lacazette and Aubaneyang, Arsenal’s two most expensive ever signings can bled and combine. Both ways require width and discipline from Bellerin and Monreal of Kolasinac and both have exciting plus points.