Drop it like it’s Walcott
One of the more pervasive theories is that Wenger should drop Theo Walcott when Alexis returns. The reaction after the Chelsea match on twitter was almost unanimous, he’d had the game that sealed the deal: Walcott’s career at Arsenal was done. I have a carefully groomed timeline on twitter and I was still inundated with Gooners saying things like “10 years at Arsenal, I hope that match was his testimonial”.
Fans seem evenly divided between starting Campbell, who they believe gives more to the team than Walcott, and playing some weird midfield duo so that Ramsey can be pushed back wide. But if I were to guess at Wenger’s thoughts I would look at what he did when he put Alexis on: he took off Campbell.
A major reason for why he kept Walcott on was because the Englishman is simply more of a goal threat than Campbell. I’m not saying Walcott is the greatest forward in the world but he is statistically a better dribbler, takes more shots, gets more shots on target, and has much better footspeed than Campbell.
By playing Walcott, Alexis and Giroud at the same time what you’re doing is making the opponent cover multiple options at the same time. You’ve got a guy who can break on corners (Walcott), a guy who can physically battle with the defenders (Giroud), and a guy who is just wildcattin’ all the time (Alexis). If Wenger plays Campbell, he gets better defending. If Wenger plays Theo he gets better attacking. And right now Arsenal need all the attacking they can get.
Help us Mo Elneny, you’re our only hope…
The other idea that people have is that Elneny and Coquelin will start together and then Ramsey will play on the right. Maybe, I guess. Ramsey on the right did sort of work sometimes at the start of the season — though if my memory serves there were also a lot of complaints by fans about Arsenal’s lack of counter attacking, speed, and width when Ramsey played “wide”. I remember complaining about it, more than once.
Wenger is a huge gambler (as evidenced by his lack of transfer activity in the summer!) so perhaps we will see this virgin midfield duo deployed. But man, that seems like a huge risk to me because Elneny is such an unknown quantity. In fact I suspect that’s the reason so many people are attracted to this idea. Because it’s an unknown, there’s very little risk in mooting it. If it fails, you simply say “oh well, at least we tried” and if it succeeds “see, I’m right!”
The problem with Elneny-Coquelin is that Elneny would have to boss the midfield in possession. Coquelin isn’t a terrible passer but he worked well with Cazorla because Cazorla is a pass master. Is Elneny a pass master? Some people think so. I’ve never seen him play in the Premier League, while being kicked up and down the pitch by Joey Barton. But if he starts against Burnley, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. So, I guess we will see what Elneny is made of in that game.
But I’d be shocked if Wenger starts him and Coquelin at the same time.
Arsenal are out of the title race
Mer… this has been the most unpredictable season I have ever seen and Arsenal are just 3 points off the top of the table. I’m not ready to call it just yet.
Actually, I’d like to see the members of the press start to put some pressure on Tottenham. They are only 5 points off the top of the table and have been playing some of the most consistent football of any club this season. They need to be considered legitimate title contenders. Arsenal are just a little horse.
Tim you were wrong about squad depth
Arsenal lost three of their starting midfielders all in the same week: Alexis, Coquelin, and Cazorla. Each one of these players is unique in what they do. There is no team in the world that has two Alexises (Alexii?), two Coquelins (Coquelinii?), and two Cazorlas (Cazorlaii?).
Alexis is the attacking impetus of the team (and provides us with a pressing energy up high that sets the team up for better defending), Coquelin provided the defensive solidity in midfield, and Cazorla is simply the best midfielder in the world at breaking opposition pressure (and provided a second passing threat, forcing teams to cover more than one option and taking pressure off Ozil). Those three players were the spine of this Arsenal team and if you rip the spine out of any club — imagine Man City loses Aguero, Yaya, and Kompany for half the season or Leicester loses Mahrez, Kante, and Huth, their three best players — the level is going to drop dramatically.
So it was normal that Arsenal’s offense and defense dropped.
But look at what the backups did: they kept Arsenal out of the Europa League, beat Man City, forged another berth in the FA Cup, and despite some pretty bitter results, Arsenal are 3 points off the top of the table. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that is the very definition of squad depth. I feel like I’m the only Arsenal supporter who sees this and is happy that the team did as well as it did under the circumstances.
I’m not saying that I did a little victory dance when Arsenal lost to Chelsea or that in some other theoretical universe Wenger had bought three players who were “better than Flamini, Walcott, and Ramsey” (or whichever players you dislike) and Arsenal had run away with the League. But I don’t live in a theoretical universe, and if I did it wouldn’t be so boring that I would be worried about signing players who are only slightly better than Flamini, and so in the circumstances, the backups did pretty OK.
Regardless where you fall on that debate, Alexis is back, Coquelin is back, Welbeck is coming back, Wilshere is being thawed out of his carbonite stasis, and Elneny is going to save us.
Really, it’s all down to Elneny.