by Tim Charlesworth
In the previous article I looked at the issue of the defence, and focussed on the issues where we have two competing players for a position. Now we have the question of the box to box players and those playing further forward.
B2B – Cazorla or Ramsey (or Wilshere)
Cazorla has firmly established himself as the no 1 in this position, and I suspect that this will carry over into the new season. I don’t see how you can drop a player that is playing that well.
However, Ramsey is a wonderful player, who may well be on course to become one of the best players in the world. In 13/14, he was clearly our best player. It must be a terrible wrench to leave him out of the team. Some of his appearances on the right wing at the end of last season suggested how reluctant Wenger was to bench him. Cazorla is in his 30s. Can Cazorla really hold Ramsay at bay? Either way, we look pretty strong here, especially with Wilshere as an alternative.
RM – The Ox or Ramsey or Walcott or Wilshere
My feeling is that the Ox is no.1 choice here in Wenger’s mind. Only injury seemed to lose him his place last season, but he can hardly be considered an established starter here. The array of talent competing with him is stunning. Walcott (if not playing centre forward), Welbeck (ditto), Sanchez (ditto), Cazorla (if not playing B2B) and Gnabry are all great options here. In addition, Wilshere and Ramsey also had some very good games in this position last season. My suspicion is that the Ox will get the most minutes here in the coming season. (possible rotation)
CF – Giroud or Walcott
Arguably Walcott is the man in possession here. There can surely be no suggestion that Wenger did not pick his strongest 11 for the cup final (goalkeeper excepted). However, the last two weeks of the 14/15 season were probably the only time in this 26 year old’s career when he really looked convincing in this position. Four goals in two games against WBA and Villa is hardly sufficient to convince anyone that he is a long-term option as a no9 for one of Europe’s top teams.
Yet somehow, my gut tells me that, after all these years, his moment has finally arrived. Wenger has been talking about him as a centre forward for years. And when Wenger talks persistently about something, it usually turns out to be right, no matter how outrageous (I remember the derision he got for talking about an unbeaten season c 2001). Somehow Walcott now looks more robust and confident in this position.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as the man who plays most minutes in the no9 role next season. Remember the precedent of RVP turning into a no9 quite late in his career.
At the same time, Giroud has improved every year he has been with us. He is still in his prime, and is a very difficult player for defenders to handle. He made an instant difference to the team when returning from a broken leg last season. He also makes an underestimated defensive contribution in the air at set pieces, which Walcott is unable to offer.
I don’t think much of Danny Welbeck’s chances in this position next season, and I think we won’t sign a new player (mainly because no good ones are available). My bet is that Walcott will prevail in 15/16, but I’m really not sure.
Ozil has to be the man in possession, and Wenger seems to play him here when his is fit. The brief experiment at left midfield in the early games of last season seems to have been abandoned. However, he is still to prove to everyone that he can consistently produce world class performances. There are an absurd number of alternatives to play here. Sanchez was the best alternate last season, but Cazorla, the Ox, Wilshere, Ramsey and Rosicky have all put in good performances in this position in the past.
CB: Koscielny – surely only injury can keep this man out the team. He has been our top performing CB for a number of seasons now.
LM: Sanchez – this is a bit of a simplification, because Sanchez might play in a number of positions next season (notable games at no9 and no10 last season). My assumption is that he was so good and such a good ‘team player’ that he cannot be left out when fit. This could change next season, but lets hope he goes from strength to strength rather than suffers the ‘sophomore effect’/burnout from a very long season that has only just finished.
In a few instances I have recognized that players might be rotated or that Wenger might use ‘horses for courses’.
I think this is a bit of a cop-out as Wenger is a reluctant rotator. He is more likely to rotate higher up the pitch, but even then, it is usually clear who is first choice. I can’t think of any examples in the past where Wenger has used a ‘horses for courses’ approach by selecting different players depending on the opposition, and I think that this is an unlikely solution to the selection dilemmas. In the unlikely event that he does want to adapt his team depending on the opposition, then the following would seem to be the main options:
- Play BFG when you want to defend deep (Europe away?) or want extra areal protection, play Gabriel when you want to push higher up the pitch
- Play Debuchy when you want to defend deep (Europe away?). Play Bellerin when you want to push higher up the pitch. You may also be interested in defensive and areal balance depending on whether Monreal or Gibbs are playing on the opposite side, or if Giroud is playing.
- Play Walcott against immobile/slow CBs (he will run them ragged) and Giroud against smaller/quicker ones (he will dominate them in the air). Also play Giroud if you are concerned about having enough defensive strength in the air
Finally, we also have to remember that Wenger can be a bit unpredictable. If I was doing this article twelve months ago, I would have discussed the merits of Cazorla as no 10 or wide midfielder/winger, not as a box-to-box midfielder, which is where he seems to have ended up. In the past, Toure, Eboue, Lauren, Song and RVP all seem to have changed position without prior notice. Of course, injuries will also solve some of these selection dilemmas.
At the moment, we only seem to have three certain starters. I may have exaggerated slightly here because I think, Cech and Coquelin are reasonably safe bets as starters. Nonetheless, I cannot think of a time when there was so much uncertainty about our best 11. If some of our players can solve this problem, by out-performing expectations and establishing themselves as a clear first choice, we will have a great season.
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