diamond-formation

Will a Diamond be a Wenger’s best friend?

diamond-formation

Yesterday I wrote a speculative piece exploring the possibility of playing Aaron Ramsey in the centre, nominally of the 3 behind the striker. The article was born out of both positive and negative views of the Welshman. Positive in that his strengths are obvious and require him being in and around the opposition penalty area. Negative in that unlike many I simply don’t see him as a partner to Xhaka in a two.

The obvious flaw for some in placing Ramsey behind our striker is that it moves Ozil to the left or right. Even though the 3 positions behind the striker at Arsenal are fluid many simply will not accept that Ozil can be every bit a play-maker from wide. Even though, he has performed there for both his previous clubs and also his country, in winning the last World Cup. It will be interesting to see if Ozil starts at central 10 or in the wider role where he finished his campaign in Brazil and where Low has often used him.

The alternative way to keep as many of Arsenal’s top stars involved might be to lessen the involvement of the wider players such as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Campbell and Iwobi and accommodate 3 central midfielders, allowing the width to come from the fullbacks. This would allow the utilisation of 3 central midfielders and 2 strikers and offer Ozil the role the most Gooners prefer him to have. One could see this as 4312, which I have written about previously as the Chile formation which allows Sanchez to play up top with a partner. It can also be seen as the ‘Diamond’ that Roy Hodgson have often deployed for England. The 3 Lions are 4th favourites for Euro 2106 with Bet 10 and if this is the way they play, Jack Wilshere is likely to be to the fore.

However the emergence of Eric Dier means Hodgson had a choice to make with Wilshere. Does he restore Jack to the base of the diamond, where he played in the qualifiers or leave the Spurs youngster there and use his fresh Gunner to the left or right of his diamond. Similarly if this formation were to be utilised by Wenger in August as he does not see Jack as Hodgson has, sitting deep and now had bought Xhaka who would be suited to that position.

So if Ozil heads the diamond or is the 10 behind 2 strikers and Xhaka is at the base it leaves 2 positions on the left and right of the formation.  I would contend that Cazorla and Wilshere could easily play on the left of the diamond and Ramsey or Elneny on the right. This leaves Coquelin as cover and competition for Xhaka and Iwobi as cover for Ozil.  All in all, a fabulous utilisation of the squad, with genuine rotational possibilities in all positions.

It also allows Alexis Sanchez a free role to play in and around a partner as he does for Chile, although in this formation, although it could work with Giroud, I am sure we would all rather see a new ad more mobile alternative.

Interesting times….

To read yesterday’s prequel click here

What next for Ramsey?

What next to get the best from Aaron Ramsey after Xhaka’s Arrival?

What next for Ramsey?
What next for Ramsey?

The addition to the Arsenal squad of Granit Xhaka has certainly got most Arsenal fans excited. Some are more familiar with him then others and most, like me will be looking forward to seeing him in action in France for his home nation Switzerland.

However, even those of us who do not claim to be Xhaka experts know enough to know that if Wenger sticks with 4231 our new signing will be one of the 2. Arsenal will not be making a statement like this in the transfer market and spending the money they are, unless the player is to be an upgrade on the first team. This in turn has and will lead to debates on social media about who would be his logical partner and for once Arsenal and Arsene, all things staying as they are, will be spoilt for choice.

Who to partner the new man?
Who to partner the new man?

He may well have a fully rested Santi Cazorla, for many the logical partner if Xkaka is an upgrade on Coquelin. This was after all the combination that saw us surge to the FA Cup final and victory in 14/15. Many will be hoping that Jack Wilshere comes through the Euro’s unscathed and having performed well. If he gets to play the deeper role centrally he is a prime candidate also. The England betting odds a Betway have the Three Lions as evens to beat Russia in the opening fixture and I suspect Wilshere will be pulling the strings.  Mo Elneny also had adapted superbly to English football and the idea of two strong and physical presences in the double pivot, will appeal in the big and tough away games perhaps. It will cause some Gunners memories to fondly drift back the glory days between 2002 and 2005 where Vieira and Gilberto, both strong, athletic and over 6 foot tall, dominated teams.

The observant will note I have excluded Aaron Ramsey from the above options and I know that for many he is a shoe in to the berth alongside our new Swiss signing. Many have been suggesting Wenger was merely waiting to have a controlling passer of the Arteta 13/14 ilk to bring out the best in Ramsey.  That is not an opinion I share but that is not to suggest I would discard the Welshman. His slows our game down when he plays deeper and his passing is not at the consistent standard of Cazorla, Wilshrere or Elneny. He also lacks the discipline on occasion and can leave his partner stranded.  This was pointed out by Invincible Martin Keown in March when he suggested Ramsey’s attacking instincts were killing Arsenal’s title challenge. None of this says he cannot perform the role but more questions why he should need to, if as Keown contends his natural game is to attack?

Ramsey is at his best in the opposition’s half and ideally in the attacking third of the pitch. The timing of his runs in the penalty area are instinctive and his give and goes on the edge of area to get in beyond can reap truly decisive rewards. In addition we all know he is a good finisher, the best of our midfielders. So if we want him more advanced and where he offers most threat and can play to his strengths does this mean placing him back on the right? He was effective there and a player of similar attributes in Freddie Ljungberg wrought great damage nominally from the right but is it ideal?

Used in his best role for Wales?
Used in his best role for Wales?

The answer to the Ramsey Conundrum may well lie in his role this summer for Wales in France. If Chris Coleman is true to his selection in qualifying, there is a very good chance that we will be watching our Welsh Gunner playing centrally just behind Bale. Coleman has a group of solid performers with good discipline and a work ethic but he leaves his 2 best players to stay further up the part to do the damage. This is where Ramsey wants to be and where all his attributes and talents are to the fore.

At this point many of you will be thinking that is all very well but he cannot play there for Arsenal as that is Ozil’s position. At Arsenal the 10 role has to be that of our chief play-maker. But does it actually? Arsenal fans were in uproar when Wenger played Ozil wide at the outset of the 14/15 season. “You can’t play the world’s best Number 10 on the wing!!!!” I guess the question is why not?

Spurs adjusted their structure and moved Eriksen nominally wide to allow Alli to do what he does best centrally. Erisksen was second only to Ozil in assist and Alli started scoring and assisting regularly. They did this with 2 sitting CMs. Of course Alli and the Dane are fluid but Ozil and Ramsey could be as well. After Ozil and Eriksen, 3 of the next four play-makers leading the PL assist charts were Tadic, Payet and Mahrez, all of who start wide, the first 2 in a 3 and Mahrez in a 4. Only Silva with 11 assists actually replicated Ozil’s 10 central role but we all know like Ozil he will drift anywhere to influence the game. Is playing Alexis and Ozil either side of Ramsey behind a new striker and in front of Xkaka plus one unthinkable?

Wider starting position to allow Alli central
Wider starting position to allow Alli central

Some might be concerned about Ozil’s work ethic, if having to be wide when the team is in defensive mode. Two years ago I might have agreed but not anymore as the German is easily one of the hardest workers in our team. It will be interesting also in June to watch the World Champions as they finished their winning campaign with Mesut wide and I have spoken with a few German Gunners who think Low may play him there in France.

Just some musings really but it is a fact that most of the most effective play-makers in our league are starting from wide. I could have added De Bruyne of course who barring injury would have been challenging Ozil for assists as well. I am sure anyway that Wenger will be watching if Wilshere is playing deep and centrally, Ramsey centrally and off the striker and Ozil play-making from wide next month.

Until next time

 

Does Theo Walcott have a future at Arsenal?

Farewell?
Farewell?

Since joining Arsenal in 2006, Theo Walcott hasn’t really managed to hold down a regular spot in Arsene Wenger’s starting line-up. In fact, the 27-year-old has made just 42 appearances (23 of those cameo roles off the bench) for the Gunners since the beginning of the 2014/15 campaign and it might be time for Walcott and Arsenal to head separate ways this summer.

Walcott after scoring v Stoke
Walcott after scoring v Stoke

Ultimately, Walcott faces a real fight for regular first-team football. The England international has the entire summer to focus on his future after Roy Hodgson opted against taking him to the European Championship this summer and it might be time for Walcott to decide whether he is a striker or a winger. While versatility is important, Walcott is well down the Arsenal pecking order for both positions right now.

Whether the England man stays or leaves the Emirates this summer, one thing’s for sure: Arsenal are going to be incredibly fun to watch next season. If Wenger signs a striker, the Gunners could well go on to win their first Premier League title since 2004. Olivier Giroud simply cannot cut it at the top level and Arsenal have been linked with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Maxi Romero and Mauro Icardi this summer.

Wright says it is time

Over the summer, fans will be flocking to buy tickets to see Arsenal as they bid to achieve this incredible feat. If nothing else, the Gunners will once again play the most exciting and free-flowing brand of football in the top flight – even if they fall short in their pursuit of the title. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back from injury and the likes of Alex Iwobi coming through, Arsenal have plenty of young talent and they could dominate the Premier League for many years to come.

But looking specifically at Walcott’s Arsenal career, his future looks bleak. On the wing, Alexis Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi and Joel Campbell all pull rank above Walcott on current form. Unfortunately, his chances of getting much game time upfront don’t look much better – especially as the Gunners will sign at least one striker this summer. If nothing else, a fresh start away from the Emirates could be exactly what Walcott needs to reignite his career.

Final salute?
Final salute?

Realistically, it might be better for all parties if Walcott moves on this summer. Arsenal would still get a reasonable sum of money for Walcott and he gets to play first-team football for another Premier League side – everybody’s happy. However, Wenger may want to keep Walcott on the books after Welbeck’s injury and it could be yet another frustrating campaign for the England man. After all, he’s certainly not going to get a look-in if Arsenal sign a world class striker.

Theo Walcott has been a loyal servant over the last ten years but his time is up. Gunners fans will remember him but unfortunately, his time at Arsenal will always be remembered as ‘what could have been’.

No Welbeck, No Party: Why Arsenal Must Sign another Striker

No Danny for 9 months
No Danny for 9 months

If nothing else, Arsene Wenger learnt one thing this season: Arsenal are a world class striker away from the Premier League title. Supporters have been crying out for the club to invest heavily in a top centre-forward since Robin van Persie left the club but Wenger turned a blind eye to many of these pleas.

Instead, the Frenchman opted to place all of his faith and trust in Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck – and that decision ultimately cost the Gunners any chance of winning the title this season.

Distraught Welbeck injured at City

Distraught Welbeck injured at City

Arsenal now have a difficult decision to take ahead of the European Championship. With Welbeck out for up to nine months, the Gunners are in desperate need of another striker except this time, Wenger may break the bank to secure a world class talent.

Paris Saint-Germain man Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a free agent this summer and Arsenal could consider a move for the Sweden international. At 34 years old, he’s approaching the twilight years of his career but he still has plenty to offer and could do a job for at least two years.

Wenger must also decide whether to consider any bids for Walcott this summer. The 27-year-old was snubbed by Roy Hodgson ahead of Euro 2016 and he may push for a move away from the Emirates Stadium.

Walcott has struggled to inspire confidence this season and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see a mid-table Premier League side bid for the Arsenal frontman in the coming months. If nothing else, his raw speed and pedigree could convince a few of the top flight’s “lesser” sides to consider a move.

Whether Walcott leaves or not, Arsenal simply have to sign a striker before the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign.

Gunners fans won’t stand for another summer of incompetent transfer activity and Wenger knows there is plenty of pressure to deliver a first Premier League title since 2004. The likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain have both been linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal will be quietly confident of acquiring at least one world class talent in the summer transfer window.

Top strikers linked
Top strikers linked

At the time of writing, Arsenal are priced at 11/2 to win the title in Paddy Power’s football betting odds. If they sign a striker, the Gunners stand a great chance – especially if they manage to keep hold of Walcott and Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal cannot afford to fail again next season and Wenger knows it. Anything less than the title and the Frenchman may go from a Gooner to a goner.

It is Time for the 4141 that triumphed at the Etihad last season.

The star of last year's win at the Etihad keen to play
The star of last year’s win at the Etihad keen to play

Ahead of a huge game on Sunday at the Etihad there will be 2 players in particular desperate to play and prove their readiness to their international managers. Jack Wilshere has already featured briefly for the Arsenal first team after 10 months out but only for 6 minutes. Santi Cazorla has been out since November and will also be anxious to be involved in the last 2 matches of the season to earn hi selection to the Spanish squad. I am sure Roy Hodgson will be one of many seeking tickets at this link for this cup final style winner takes all clash.

So that is one interesting backdrop to the match but the bigger picture Arsenal and consequently Wenger has to be the battle with Sunday’s opponents to secure the 3rd spot, or in Arsenal case perhaps even 2nd and secure automatic Champion’s League group phase football without August qualification. As intimated in this piece yesterday securing the knowledge of top table football now is more crucial for Arsenal as you sense a need for fast pre Euros transfer activity. City with the combined package of Pep and deeper pockets are certainly in a stronger position so the certainty and head start is critical to Wenger and The Gunners.

Both desperate to play but team comes first
Both desperate to play but team comes first

With this being the case it is hard to make a case for Wenger to start Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla but both will no doubt be on the bench praying for an Arsenal performance from their team mates that allows him to introduce them. Of course the Etihad last season was a match that should have defined a new Arsenal. A mature, cautious away win with a new playing structure for such games seemingly heralded a new Wenger. One who admitted past mistakes and confessed to listening to his players. He used a similar structure away at United in the superb FA Cup victory but sadly this season he has reverted to type and has predominantly used his staid 4231 which was working with Santi and Coquelin but failed without them in the main.

Well earned rest
Well earned rest

Man City will be hurting after their meek exit from Europe this week and it remain to be seen which City we see on Sunday but there must be a strong argument to set up in a similar fashion to set up as we did in those crucial away wins in 14/15.  Against United in Match we played with a 4141/433 with Danny Welbeck working a solo front line and I would hope to see the same.  For this match and this match alone just ensure victory I would leave out Alex Iwobi. The young man has played a lot of first team football in a short space of time and is looking a tad jaded. I would like to see Coquelin sitting with Ramsey and Elneny working in partnership as Cazorla and Ramsey did at the Etihad last season. Leave Sanchez on the right and play Ozil in the wide left role. The alternative is to allow Ozil centrally as at Old Trafford and play Alexis and Ramsey in the wide box to box role. Either would work well.

Set up and 11 for Etihad
Set up and 11 for Etihad

If this system works and the game is going according to plan Cazorla slots in seamlessly for one of the 2 central positions in the 4. Wilshere could also come into one of this two positions or indeed wide. Win this game and Cazorla, Wilshere and even Tomas Rosicky in this last game for the club can play a full part against a woeful Aston Villa side already on the beach

Thanks for reading @goonerdave66