By Tony Attwood
The Guardian today has a bold headline: “Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend action Guardian”. And not a single one of those talking points relates to Arsenal. Disappointing, but I wonder if they were just being honest; they had called it wrong, and were backing off.
The Independent however follows much of Fleet Street saying, Wenger had “actually set his team out to play in a very deep 4-1-4-1, with Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain almost on top of their full-backs to stop the attacking threat”
They then go on to talk about “the central midfield three of Cazorla, Ramsey or the brilliant Francis Coquelin”
Shall we note that? In one game Coquelin has moved from being the guy pulled back from a loan in the championship to being “brilliant” in a match against the works team of the International Petroleum Investment Company. Just to make sure we realise this is not a misprint they tell us later than “Coquelin had an excellent game as the midfield enforcer.”
Now several papers focus on the fact that Arsenal conceded possession in this match – and had the lowest possession rate of any match this season. And from that the conclusion comes that Mr Wenger has finally learned to listen to what the journalists have been telling him all this time. 1-0 to Fleet Street. “Finally, the 65-year-old seems to be learning” as the Independent says.
Except that most of the season we haven’t had the squad available to put up such a defensive display, because of the insane level of injuries. Who’s fault is that? is the aaa cry – but the fact is that we couldn’t have known where the injuries would come, or indeed if they would come at this level. And even if we had, that doesn’t mean that the players we wanted would be available. Indeed as I have said so many times before, trying to bring in top rated players and convince them to sign for us, to be back up in case of injury is impossible.
On Sunday we used Francis Coquelin – a player developed out of the youth system, and Hector Bellerin – ditto – in defence. And we had the rhino.
Now Mertersacker has been criticised and criticised. But this is what the Telegraph said, in awarding players marks out of ten…
PER MERTESACKER: 8
May have the mobility of a rhinoceros, but he also has its physical strength and determination and he kept Sergio Aguero shackled throughout with a hugely impressive performance.
And how did he get to that level of rating? By playing.
That’s really the point of all this. A key factor in what has stopped this type of performance in the past has been injuries which have forced us to put out whatever players we had. Quite often, given the level of injuries all we could do was to put out players who might be able to score more than the opposition.
It isn’t that Mr Wenger has finally learned to follow the press. It is that before then we didn’t have the players available to run this alternative system.
As it is, we can now look forward to next week’s cup game against Brighton where we could give a game to Gibbs, Theo, Ozil, Rosicky, Chambers, Welbeck, Hayden – ok not all of them, but some. We actually have a squad back.
And Coquelin – a player we’ve mentioned off and on as being of interest, for year after year after year – is at last ready. It surely is not too fanciful to suppose that this readiness did not hit Mr Wenger with a sudden awareness out of the blue. After all it is Wenger who gave Coquelin the contracts each time. He must have known – known that the player had a hard time of it on his last season long loan, and the need a few competitive games to get his edge back. Is it really impossible that we didn’t buy a defensive midfielder because he knew about Coquelin, and didn’t want to waste money on a six month stop gap until Coquelin was ready?
I’ve looked through the papers but haven’t found a single commentary that suggests that. Nope – it is all about the press and how they have been saying all this, all the time, and finally Wenger has noticed. Questioning why Coquelin has just emerged isn’t part of the remit of the press.
And there’s one other twist. Everyone watches Alexis, and of course he is totally watchable. But as Thierry H. said on TV, it is Santi Cazorla who has the most influence. But as a defender it is impossible to let Alexis go, because he scores extraordinary goals. With those two in the team we are starting to pull defences in two directions at once.
The only problem left is where the hell we put Ozil.
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