We touched on this earlier in the week, and as promised I thought I’d write a piece on it to generate some discussion amongst the FPL Addict community and prod some thought towards what we may have to do in the future. The fact is that a lot of us have a plethora of Arsenal players and a rethink may need to occur in our team structures at some stage. Or it may not! But it’s better to be prepared for the pain than be surprised by it.
Up to this point in the season Arsenal have been “lucky” in that their team largely has picked itself. They’ve had a run of injuries to their midfield such that picking the matchday XI was fairly simple for Monsieur Wenger. Whoever was fit was playing. A by-product of that was this group has gelled stupendously well and could be the key reason why they currently lead the EPL by 4 points. But they now have a problem… Sure, many will say it’s a problem that most other teams would love to have, but I’m not so sure about that. They have some top quality midfielders coming back from injury and are expectant first teamers but they can’t all play. Some of the midfield group are going to have miss out, either in the guise of rotation or that they have just been overtaken in the pecking order and could now be surplus to requirements.
To try and get a gauge on who out of the midfield group may get game time, we need to a take step back and get an idea of how Arsene gets his team to play. The simplest response to that is; 2 holding midfielders with a bank of 3 in front supporting the lone striker. They play an aesthetically pleasing fluid passing style that requires a lot of off the ball movement and high levels of skill. Simples? It’s never that simple.
The bog standard formation that Arsenal send out, as I said, contains 2 defensive midfielders. Where they differ from other similar set ups is that they aren’t always required to be the tough tackling type that some of the “lesser” teams utilise. With Arsenal’s ability to control games and push and press higher up the pitch these 2 players are required to be a little more technically proficient as they will be taking part in more attacking plays, as opposed to a West Brom or Stoke who need them to sit a little deeper and provide more defensive insurance. These 2 midfielders have vastly different roles however, and they do look much better if one of these is a defensive beast. Wenger’s Arsenal teams over the years have played their best when they’ve had a very good defensive mid who was happy to do the dirty work, players such as Viera, Petit and Gilberto Silva spring to mind. This season Flamini was brought back and slipped straight into this role but as he has been struck down with injury, Arteta has been an excellent deputy. They both bring quite different talents to this position however. Flamini has brought a solidarity to the midfield that was at times missing last season. He has excellent positional and tackling skills but is no mug when it comes to passing the ball around. The position doesn’t require a massive passing range as many of the passes played by this position are short to more attacking players, he’s basically the anchor that lets the other players do what they need to do. When Arteta fills in however, he brings much better skills on the ball but the offset being the defensive side of his game is not as strong. He is getting much better at this in recent times however and his game against Liverpool suggests he can push Flamini for this spot full-time, but they do feel a little safer with Flamini there. One other small note on Arteta, throughout his career in England he has always gravitated to the right side of the pitch during the games and most of his “passes received” occur on the right of centre channel. When he plays, the second defensive mid needs to occupy the left, or the system may not work as well. This has ramifications further up the field and where the areas the second mid can push up into.
The second of the defensive mids has a great deal more freedom and is more of a traditional box-to-box midfielder. When this position moves up into the attacking areas he will start to fill gaps that the higher 3 mids will naturally leave free. This is probably one of the harder positions to play as you need to be able to have a high technical capacity to attack whilst also having the positional sensitivity to drop back when the need arises, and perform there at a high level too. That’s why Ramsey’s season has been so fantastic and possibly even a little underrated! Yeah we all know about his amazing run of goals but his value to the team is just as high in how he fits into the structure and how tactically mature he is becoming. That said, he does have competition for this position… Arsenal have a bloke called Wilshere who is more than capable in filling this spot, you could suggest that his attacking play is better than Ramsey’s but his defensive side (in both tacking and positional play) needs a little work. He can often be a little rash in the tackle and his defensive positioning sometimes isn’t up to Ramsey’s standard. The other option Arsene has up his sleeve is to play both Flamini and Arteta in these two spots which I think he will do at times. This will mean Arteta pushing a little higher up in the right side as opposed to Ramsey on the left. He might do this on occasion when Walcott gets back to full fitness to help channel a little more creativity around these areas.
The attacking 3 midfielders are a little more difficult to define and have seen a major step forward from last season. Their fluidity and teamwork could be seen at times last season but the introduction of Ozil into the group has seen it reach new levels as he complements the team perfectly. If we take the probable best team it should have Cazorla on the left, Ozil in the middle and Walcott on the right. Ozil is the type of player that likes to drift out onto the wings quite often, mostly to the right when they have the ball. This suits Cazorla because his natural instinct is to tuck in and operate more centrally than a traditional left winger should. Ozil going wider right then pushes Walcott up the field into striker positions, lending on his pace and finishing abilities to score or help out Giroud. It’s then up to Ramsey to operate a pass behind them or make runs into the box between them. The way these 3 positions, along with the defensive mid pushing up, all interact with each other is vital to how Arsenal will fare this season. They have already shown in the EPL and Europe that this group has developed an outstanding understanding and if they can keep it up, will provide very good value for money in taking out the league.
Now obviously that’s a very basic analysis of a gameplan and there are a lot of variables involved such as how the opposition set up, the game situation, player form, etc, etc, etc but it’s a decent starting point. The benefit Arsenal have then are players outside of that starting 3 of attacking mids that are very comfortable in filling the exact same roles as the starting players do. With Wilshere they have a player who is as similarly inclined as Cazorla is to play on the left and drift in, Gnabry can do similar stuff Walcott does and Rosicky can fill any of the 3 positions comfortably.
So that’s their starting midfield sorted out… Where do all the “fringe” players fit in? In no particular order;
Arteta. Like I said before, he’s going to be the back up for either the defensive midfield roles, but primarily the more defensive position. This bloke is quality with a capital Q and will regularly be rotated into the team, whether that’s at the expense of either Flamini or Ramsey will probably be down to player management and ensuring they all get through the long season.
Wilshere. He has a the benefit over a few of his competitors in his positional flexibility. He has the ability to take Ramsey’s position as the box-to-box midfielder but he is equally adept at filling in for Ozil in the centre or Cazorla on the left. This guy has as much natural talent as anyone but has been severely hamstrung by injuries over the past couple of seasons and is struggling to string games together. If he is able to get fit and firing, it will be very interesting to see where he gets into this team as he does provide a different style of play than most of the others. I would suggest he’d be a horses for courses player and provide opportunities for the others to have a week off. You’d have to suggest he’s dropped down the pecking order slightly, but Arsene is a big fan…
Rosicky. We could’ve been mistaken in thinking that he would fall off the edge in regards to his Arsenal career with the arrival of Ozil, but so far this season he has been invaluable in helping Arsenal through this patch of injuries. When he has played he’s provided exactly what they’ve asked of him and has the ability to fill any of the 3 attacking mid spots, or even drop deeper at a push. Where he fits into this team now that a lot of them are becoming available is a little uncertain. Others are probably ahead of him in the pecking order and he may struggle to get regular games.
Gnabry. Another youngster from the Arsenal production line. He has immense talent and Arsene has put faith in him by playing him whilst Walcott has been injured out on the right wing. He should continue to get game time, but probably from the bench and definitely in Cup games.
Chamberlain. Unfortunately the Ox is out for a long time so we can’t really consider him. For us that’s a good thing because he could cause a lot more selection nightmares.
Podolski. Coming back soon! Before he was injured, he carved out a nice little niche for himself on the left wing but I’d be a little surprised if he slots back into this spot when he comes back. With Arsenal’s lack of strikers he may well go back up front, where he made a name for himself early in his career, and provide back-up to Giroud and Bendtner (haha).
I think I might call it a day… In summary there will be rotation, it just depends where and how often. Arsenal play a huge amount of games with them still being live in the Champions League and FA Cup as well as making a very real charge at the EPL title, which I think they are a very good chance if they can keep Giroud fit. They do play a rather labour intensive game style and I doubt they’ll be able to keep it up without some breaks along the way.
Any requests for next week?