I know I wrote on Thursday about the importance of the team over the individual. But teams are comprised of individuals and so, today, ahead of the season opener against West Ham on Sunday I’d like to do a few predictions for the players this season. A sort of hopes and dreams for each player.
It’s tough to say with Wenger what the lineups will look like in any given game and things will change from match to match. Not only that but twitter is abuzz with rumors that Arsenal are going to sign “the player that will make them title contenders” (Benzema) whatever that means. So, these are just best guesses which are intended to illustrate Arsenal’s depth along with who I think Wenger will start with more than anything.
Starting XI – A
This is Arsenal’s first choice lineup. The only real controversial choices are Ox starting over Walcott on the right and Cazorla starting over Ramsey in the middle.
Cazorla starts because, let’s face it, why would he be dropped? It doesn’t mean that Ramsey won’t play, Arsenal will probably play 55+ games this season, but for the moment Cazorla has done nothing wrong to merit being dropped.
As for Ox on the right, I don’t have a real reason except that I think Wenger sees Walcott more as a center forward now. He’s played him through the middle in each of the last three games and I don’t think that’s an accident. That doesn’t mean that Walcott won’t start on the right ever but rather that I think Wenger is trying to move Walcott centrally this season.
If Walcott is the backup, then questions arise over Welbeck. I’ll answer them below.
Starting XI – B
This second lineup is more of a second string lineup.
Theo Walcott starts up front in this lineup and I think a lot of fans will be surprised by the number of times Wenger uses Theo as the tip of Arsenal’s lance. As I said above, Wenger has already shown he’s not afraid to put Theo in the lone striker role. It frees him up to rest Giroud from time to time, gives Arsenal a different style to their attack, and allows Arsenal to start with one style and bring Giroud or Welbeck off the bench and batter down stubborn defenses.
The other thing I’m illustrating with this lineup is that when Arteta plays in the defensive midfield role I think Arsenal need to play Ramsey with him. Ramsey gives Arteta an outlet for his passes and acts as cover, tackling high up the pitch.
And finally, note that Alexis and Ozil feature prominently in both lineups. This is because I don’t think Arsenal have proper cover for Alexis on the left. Welbeck can do the job but can I just say it felt weird putting Welbeck on the left and Theo up front? That’s all, sometimes things just feel weird.
So, in my mind Ozil is the left side cover for Alexis and Alexis is the right side cover for Ox. I’m not saying Walcott won’t start on the right, that Welbeck won’t start on the left (or the right) but just that if you move Walcott to the middle, which I suspect the boss will do, it makes it weird to play Welbeck in a side role, because he wants to play centrally and, frankly, has the attributes to do it.
My basic points are these: Walcott will play center forward this season more than you think, Wilshere is going to have a hard time getting into the lineup but should make some appearances when Ozil is rested, Ox will start more games than you think on the right, Cazorla is the player I think starts in CM, and Arteta needs Ramsey to help with the DM duties.
How many games will Giroud play? Scored 19 goals on 36 apps last season (all comps). That’s a very respectable rate of return for a forward. So, with competition from Walcott and Welbeck (and even Alexis) the question is how many games will he play? I expect him to play 35 games and score 18 goals this season. I’d also like to see him bury those big chances he seems to miss. If he could get a run of luck like Harry Kane, he could easily break the 25 goal mark. Arsenal gift him lots of chances to score, he would be a lot less frustrating if he took them!
Set aside his salary for a minute. How many goals would be a good return from Theo Walcott this season? I’m not talking just League games, I’m talking all competitions. Ramsey has targeted 24 goals. That would put Walcoott in the 100 goals range for his career at Arsenal and it’s a nice, if unrealistic, target.
The most Walcott has scored in a single season is 21. That was his best season in an Arsenal shirt. He played 43 times and scored 21 goals off 112 shots. The next season he started off perfectly fine before picking up an injury against Spurs and a year later made his return scoring a few goals at the end of the season.
Those last two seasons of missed time make it tricky to assess where Walcott could or should be in the coming seasons but what I think he’s shown over the last three years is a deadly new efficiency to his game. He has averaged a goal every 2.5 games in those three years and a goal for every 6 shots¹. The goals per shot puts him on par with top strikers but the goals per game puts him slightly below par — a goal every other game is a good return for a striker. This happens because Walcott is more dependent than other strikers on his teammates creating shots for him and so he gets fewer shots than you would normally see from a top striker.
This puts Walcott in the second tier of strikers. Good, but not great. And if I do a little fancy math around his career scoring, his career shots, his career goals, and the fact that he will probably be slightly more efficient than before I think he will score 17 goals next season. That is, of course, entirely dependent on him staying fit and getting games. Interestingly, that’s exactly 10 goals more than he scored last season. And Wenger mentioned Arsenal needing to add about 10 goals.
The one thing I’d like Alexis to work on is to stop being such a fit stud. I mean this guy came back to training camp after two weeks off, ready to play football? Who does that? Take up smoking and drinking, you’re putting the rest of us men, with our “dad bods”, to shame and we live in an era where it’s pretty much against the rules to shame people. So stop being so fit.
Also, I hope he gets better in possession with the ball just because I hate hearing people whine about it. I doubt he will, but it would be nice.
Can Ozil score some goals, please? Especially in those one-on-one situations? Because again, I don’t blame him — we all have different strengths and one of his is clearly NOT scoring goals — but I get tired of hearing people whine about it.
Also, ask Alexis if you can borrow a cup of fitness. That would be nice.
Cazorla is a special talent and Arsenal fans love him. He can dribble, pass, and he almost never stops running. He also learned how to press last season and that was a major reason why Arsenal were able to keep him in CM next to Coquelin. His only fault is that he doesn’t score from open play. In fact, he took 74 shots from open play last season and scored just 1 goal. If his place in the center of Arsenal’s midfield is under any threat it’s because of that fact. Ramsey can and will score more goals (sometimes at the detriment to the team) and he could take Cazorla’s place if the Spaniard has a poor spell.
This is a big season for a lot of the British players but none so more than Ox. Ox has the talent, he’s shown that he also has the application, but now he just needs the opportunity.
The talent has always been there, but Ox needed to work on his dribbling and finishing. The goal against Chelsea in the Charity Shield proved that he has worked on his shortcomings this season: he switched dribble onto his (weaker) left foot and finished with the same foot.
That ability for a right footed player to cut in to the left while playing on the right side makes him a double threat: he can drift wide to cross for Giroud in the middle, or can create his own chances by cutting in on his left.
Ox has never scored more than 4 goals for Arsenal in a season (all apps). I think he will get more than 10 this year and depending on fitness, could turn in a 15 goal season. That’s entirely speculative. No fancy maths. I just feel it.
Why is it that we can’t criticize Wilshere for holding onto the ball too much? You know why? Because it feels like we are blaming him when Paddy McNair breaks his ankle. But I actually don’t think the problem is Wilshere holds onto the ball too much. The problem is that Wilshere has a bad dribbling technique. He pushes the ball too far out in front of him and then lunges to regain control.
Oh no! The Arsenal police are going to crack down on me for criticizing Wilshere! But his dribbling technique is poor and that’s the problem. He either needs to learn to release the ball earlier and pass to a teammate and then move, or learn better close control.
That’s how he will play more than 20 games a season.
Stay golden Pony Boy.
You know, I don’t actually think much negative or positive about Monreal. He’s just a solid left back who picks his runs, scores the occasional goal, and does a decent job defending. Keep that up!
Well, he cut off that Mohawk. That’s a start. I don’t know how he beats Bellerin for the starting spot. Debuchy is a complete player, there isn’t much wrong with him. Bellerin is just better. Incredible, right?
Ramsey is in competition with Cazorla for the CM role at Arsenal. To take over, he just needs to keep working, stay healthy, and take his chances when they come to him. I think Ramsey might actually take the starting spot from Cazorla this season. It really just depends on how well he works together with Coquelin. But Ramsey will get his chances especially when Arteta starts.
Coquelin’s only problem last season was that he lacked the range of passing that Arsenal fans are used to from our defensive mids. Teams will probably target him this season, press him when he has the ball, cover his teammates, and force him to be more active on the ball. If he didn’t improve his passing and decision making with the ball, this could be a real problem. Other than working on that, he’s a fantastic player and fighter who does all of the subtle things Arsenal fans love from the DM position.
Welbeck is able to play all three of Arsenal’s attacking positions: left, right, and center. But he hasn’t claimed any of them as his own, yet. This is a building season for Welbz. He’s going to have to play where the team needs him and develop his skills. Welbeck has the body to be a top striker. He also gets himself into intelligent positions and with his foot speed he can beat a lot of defenders. He just needs to improve his finishing. That’s going to take time. He’s 24. He has time.
1. find legs
2. don’t use them too much
3. be a good captain
Koz, Mert, Gabriel, Chambers
Arsenal have a solid defensive partnership in Koz-Mert and a pair of solid backup defenders in Gabriel-Chambers. I hope we don’t have to use the backups too much but they will get playing time simply because Arsenal have so many games to play. Curious to see how Gabriel develops this year. He looks like a tough, no-nonsense center back and seems to have a mixture of qualities from Koz and Merte. Chambers is still developing but he also has all the makings of a good English center back.
Are you serious? He has to be nothing less than perfect. That’s all. He’s probably used to that though since all ‘keepers are required to be perfect.
The other players are all bit part players. Their job is to not make mistakes. Or, not make too many mistakes.
Wow, this was a lot longer than I expected. And probably a lot of crap. And everything is probably misspelled and I’m not going to check. Anyway, I’m excited for Arsenal’s season, starting tomorrow at like 4:30am. None of my predictions and ideas will come true but it’s all about fun trying to guess what the season holds.
See you then!
¹I count blocked shots.