I’m not in the best frame of mind to write a blog, but column timing leaves me no choice unfortunately. I am writing within 90 minutes of another 90 minutes that should have reinvigorated the team’s Premier League campaign. Frustratingly, that has proven not to be the case. Indeed, after a lacklustre performance, devoid of structure, ideas and inspiration, any writer or observer drawing positives would be, at best, misguided.
It is incredible how much can change in a matter of days from when I last scribed on my own site. After two awful league results, Arsenal conjured a fluent display in the Champions League to allay the air of depression brought on, not just by the results, but by the long-term injury to midfield lynchpin Francis Coquelin.
Of course, the fears and concerns from supporters are not just as a consequence of a poor draw against a weak team, when a victory would have seen us back to the league summit, but more by further injuries. My own concern is that all my optimism from earlier this week was drawn not just from the win against Zagreb and the performance, but what it meant along with returning players for our team structure.
I talked of three key decisions which I felt Wenger was about to make or had made in light of the game. In short, I wrote that he would stick with Flamini/Cazorla as it was the closest combination to Coquelin/Cazorla, of Ramsey resuming his role on the right and on him trying Alexis through the middle as the alternative to Giroud in Theo’s continued absence. 90 minutes later we find ourselves deprived of Alexis and with concerns over Cazorla, who seemed to be bravely soldiering on yesterday but with limited mobility.
We know that Alexis will be missing for several weeks and that with any sort of planning he should have been rested. Add to this the continued absence of Walcott and Welbeck, and Wenger is faced with some tough decisions that will shape our season. He has no choice now but to continue with Olivier Giroud as the main striker, but to do so with the current formation devoid of pace and runners seems foolhardy.
This takes us back to the spring of 2013/14 when our league challenge faltered and then collapsed when injuries to Walcott, Ramsey and Chamberlain left Giroud with no runners behind him for Cazorla and Ozil to find. We became one dimensional and easy to defend against. This season initially, we have had huge mobility and pace in our attacking play, but without Walcott we have relied on the individual brilliance of Ozil, and to a degree Alexis, to supply Giroud. This was unsustainable but with Ramsey and Ox returning, and Walcott to follow, there was room for hope, but now with Alexis out and Theo’s return date vague, the hope seems forlorn.
There seems to be too much pressure on Ramsey and Ozil to deliver in the current formation and style of play without Walcott and Sanchez, and one wonders if Wenger might not look to tinker with the formation and structure in their absence. Cazorla has barely missed a minute for the team this season but he seems the next serious injury waiting to happen. If we are rely solely on Giroud without any alternative for the next few weeks, the temptation for Wenger to revert to the successful formula of 2013/14 must be high. With no runners to take advantage of Giroud’s hold-up play apart from Ozil, who now carries the majority of the creative responsibility, perhaps now is the time to re-introduce our box-to-boxer.
With Alexis fit, Wenger would not do this and he has stated in the past week that he will not play Ramsey centrally with Cazorla, but if Flamini maintains his current discipline this has to be considered, surely?
It is not a case of ‘it’s broke so fix it’ with Arsenal, more a case of ‘it was working then all the parts began to fall off and sometimes when you begin to put the parts back they work better in different positions’. The point is we all know what Ramsey can do in the centre and what he brings to the team, but since Alexis arrived and Coquelin emerged the team balance evolved. Simple fact now is that Coquelin and Alexis are not available and the manager’s job is to get the best from what he has left at his disposal, and that could well mean giving Aaron his old job back. I don’t necessarily want to see Santi back out wide but for Villa away and until Walcott returns, I would be keen to see either him or Campbell and Oxlade-Chamberlain on each side of Mesut.