What a season eh?
Officially just over half of the season gone and currently, well before this weekends set of games anyway, Arsenal are top of the Premier League.
Who could have predicted that after the 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.
On Monday night, Arsenal have their chance to exact their “revenge”, and a win at Villa Park will see us regain top spot (if Manchester City and Chelsea do what we expect and win against Newcastle United and Hull City).
But our road to the top of the table hasn’t been all plain sailing.
We’ve suffered big injuries this season to big players, like Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Abou Diaby, Thomas Vermaelen, Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, Mesut Özil, Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Olivier Giroud, (and don’t laugh) Nicklas Bendtner during the course of the season so far.
And the biggest problem that seems to be concerning Arsenal fans is the striker situation.
Olivier Giroud has cemented himself as the man we can’t do without. He has improved on his scoring record already this season, and proved to be a valuable member of Arsenal’s first team. But after that, what are our options?
Nicklas Bendtner represents our best like-for-like replacement, and to be fair to him he has scored vital, opening goals for us against Hull City and Cardiff City. He has had his problems in the past but seems to have got his act together in some sense. But after injuring himself against Cardiff, he’s out for a couple of weeks.
Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski are two players would could fill the striker void for a few games, but Theo is out for the rest of the season which is devastating news. I don’t care what people say, having Theo injured is not good news at all and there is no silver lining to that situation. He offers something unique to this Arsenal side, and in several games this season (Manchester United away for example) someone with his guile and pace was badly needed to open up the game in our favour.
Lukas Podolski’s return is a massive boost, but it’s unsure where Arsene’s preferred position for him is. From the left, his pace and extremely accurate crossing is the perfect foil for Olivier Giroud, and he has shown that he can score goals from any distance. Hopefully, with Theo out Lukas gets more of a chance in the first eleven.
Serge Gnabry and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both young players with a lot of pace, but aren’t in the same mould or position as Theo. They are deeper, midfielders who like to play further back. They also have a lot to learn and don’t have Theo’s composure in front of goal so it would be unfair to put any real pressure on them.
So what happens if Olivier Giroud gets injured? And Nicklas Bendtner isn’t performing?
We are weak in terms of backups but maybe that doesn’t matter. I’ve mentioned several times this season that it might not matter if we don’t have backup for our strikers. Spain have shown in Euro 2012 that teams, if they have the midfield personnel, don’t need to start with a traditional striker.
On that day against Spain, they started with a “midfield” of Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas. They played some excellent football and in that game they, having some of the best passers in the world, managed to have a whopping 65% possession. That’s against an Italian side which is hardly a minnow in International terms.
So why can’t we do that? Our midfield roster, when fully fit, looks like this:
Mikel Arteta, Mathiew Flamini, Abou Diaby, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Serge Gnabry, Tomas Rosicky, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski.
Out of the 11 options available to us, 10 would be regularly available (minus Diaby of course) and from those, I would say that at least 7 of those are top, top class. And of course, we have one world class operator in Mesut Özil who is more than capable of pulling the strings.
Tactically, playing with 6 midfielders would be a big advantage for several reasons. Firstly, defending teams would have no idea who to mark, as the midfielders would be moving all around the pitch and would have no fixed position. Also, unlike in other leagues in Europe it has never been done in the Premier League before, at least not by a side who are so good in possession as Arsenal.
To make the system work, you need players who are willing to run beyond the oppositions defence and players who are willing to provide width. Without this, playing with 6 midfielders becomes boring and ends up self-defeating – in the end it just becomes to congested in the middle of the pitch. When Spain tried this with Italy they had these problems, as they fielded too many playmakers. Arsenal however, have midfielders with pace and an eye for goal.
Lukas Podolski can certainly provide width and definitely has pace, as does Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry. Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are more central players but have shown already this season that they are willing to run beyond the main striker and get in behind the defence – and they’ve scored goals already doing this. Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil are your more typical playmakers, who will pull the strings in the middle of the park.
And of course we have Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini who are the anchors in our midfield, protecting the back four and organising the team from a deeper position.
So has Arsene considered this yet? Maybe not, but it would definitely be a unique way to win the Premier League and give opposing teams something else to think about when they play Arsenal.