Four Four two again please Arsene!
The shocking threat letter cause a stir at the weekend, and apologies to those who thought it was for real once again. All I was doing was attempting humour to make what for me is a fairly serious point. That point being that I feel very strongly that we should start against West Bromwich Albion in the style, at least going forwards that we finished against Norwich. This of course means that as per my imaginary threat, ‘The Ox must play!’
This is not, as some of the comments perceived, a judgement on our tactics and formation for 2012/13, and I am not suggesting we build a team around Alex and risk early burn out or injury, a la Jack Wilshere. However I will make a couple of points as an aside about Ox as a player and the stage of development he is at. Although from London, I now live near Southampton and for a while my son was coached by Mark Chamberlain at the Pompey Academy as a 14 year old. Alex used to be waiting for his dad and sat near me week in week out. At 15, as he was then, he was well developed and at 16 he had a man’s body. This is very rare and Jack Wilshere was not physically ready for the number of games he has to play last year. So whilst I am not suggesting we take unnecessary risks, if we are to make comparisons with Ox at this stage of his development they should be with Wayne Rooney not Jack Wilshere. I also happen to believe and am prepared to stick my neck out here, that he can be anything he wants to be and in any position, right wing, CAM of a No10. In 2 years we will laugh out loud and remember when we talked of Hazard and Gotze being required at the Emirates.
Also we should remind ourselves that poor young Alex played 36 times in 2010/11 in a division where he was kicked week in week out by unforgiving defenders and this season until now he has only featured in 26 games starting only 15. He is fresh fit and raring to go and he should be unleashed on Sunday and increasingly next season. The last time I was this excited by a young English attacking talent at Arsenal was when the ‘Magic man’ Paul Merson emerged on the Highbury scene. He played 20 odd times and was slowly and carefully introduced by George Graham in 1987/88. In 1988/89 he played 43 times, won PFA Young player of the Year and we won the title at Anfield. Could Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain by the Merse of 2012/13?
A huge digression from what I promised, which is to discuss, given injuries, form and the importance of the match, our tactics and personnel for Sunday’s date with destiny. I am in favour of a reversion to our old 442 style and formation, but realistic enough to recognise that Wenger does not share my nostalgia. I do feel that there is still a place for it in certain games and during matches based on opposition and situation. The second half versus Norwich was the first time for a while however where Wenger actually made the bold decision to actually remove a central midfielder and play the old way. I am not intending to look at the wider picture of this formation in the context of new arrivals but just how it should be used this Sunday.
The second half last weekend was fundamentally different in so many ways to other tactical changes during matches from Wenger. Why? Because it happened in stages and did not ultimately involve square pegs in round holes. This was not just switching to 422 with the current players on the pitch and asking Rosicky to move out wide, and perhaps Theo to move further up as may have been the case in the past. No in 2 stages we moved from 4,2,3,1 to 442 and finished with a genuine diamond based 442 with the Ox right midfield, Gervinho, left midfield, Song at the base and Rosicky heading the diamond. Ahead we had 2 out and out strikers in RVP and Chamakh. The result was some off the most fluent attacking play we have seen in weeks, with Ox and Gervinho truly running at their full backs and taking them on, which was a joy to behold. To be honest I have not seen the Ivorian do this for months if at all.
I am hoping that Wenger will decide to start Sunday’s crucial match at the Hawthorns with the same personnel that concluded the match at the Emirates on Saturday. I have come to this conclusion for several reasons some positive and some due to other negatives such as form and injury.
Firstly on the positive side I feel the Ox and Gervinho running at the opposition full-backs the way they did for the last 20 minutes versus Norwich will cause them huge problems for West Brom, as I am convinced they will not deal with the sheer pace. Liam Ridgewell at left back is a solid Premiership defender, but he is a centre back by trade and a simple kick and sprint Perry Groves style from Ox will either leave him stranded or with a yellow card. On the opposite flank Billy Jones who until recently was in a struggling Preston team simply should not be able to live with Gervinho, as Russell Martin singularly failed to do in the closing stages on Saturday. Even if Theo Walcott is passed fit I would resist the temptation to play him as a right sided midfielder, as in a 442 Ox will have the fitness to work back and support his full back. Gervinho also tracked back well at the weekend.
So on to the problem area, the centre of the midfield. This is the negative reason for my desire to see a four name midfield with pace on the flanks. Without Arteta, we have struggled for an obvious partner for Song. Diaby, if fit would have played the last few games, but sadly his ill-luck struck again. Ramsey has been asked to do a job but he like Song struggles to naturally sit and his form and confidence are low anyway. The obvious choice would have been a fit again Coquelin but due to Sagna’s awful misfortune I feel we must utilise him at right back as we cannot throw Jenkinson straight back in to a match of this significance. So for me we rest Ramsey and use him as an impact substitute and stay with the two man central midfield of Song and the compellingly brilliant Little Mozart.
So before you all shout at me, yes I do agree that Alex Song has not shown the discipline to sit in front of the back four all season so why would he start now? My answer is simple; with the exception of the last 20 minutes against Norwich he has not once this season been given that sole responsibility. He has always been able to rely on Arteta to sit and the Spaniard unlike Song has the maturity and intelligence to know when to exercise caution and restraint. The difference on Sunday should Wenger pursue this strategy is that he will have to be explicit with Song and the instructions need to be loud and clear. There is no question that Song can function admirably in this role for 90 minutes on Sunday and I hope he is given that task. Break up the play; make the interceptions and feed Rosicky, Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain.
So what of the strike force for this must win game? Theo may be passed fit, but again I would use him for impact if required. Therefore I have complete confidence in suggesting we stick with the players for finished on Saturday. Ignoring the defensive errors we were 2 1 down before the changes were made and the turnaround was in no small part down to Chamakh.
Be a hero son!
Yes the much maligned Marouane Chamakh who for 20 minutes on Saturday looked like the player we all thought we had recruited from Bordeaux, and who began last season so well. Why the transformation? Well if it is not obvious I will spell it out for you he was playing with a partner and with two wide players raining in crosses and he was on the front foot attacking the ball. This is Chamakh’s game and this is his strength. Yes his hold up play is good but dropping deep and linking up with our midfield and playing long periods with his back to goal is not his game. Sadly the change in formation to a sole striker strategy has done for Marouane as it did for Eduardo and Nico before him. As a good friend Greg Piotis (@BreakfastEgg) put so well:
“I think that trying to play the Arsenal way might have ruined Chamakh’s Arsenal career. Which is ironic. The point is we had a guy who was direct on goal. And it was successful. He did well before he even settled properly. A season later and the guy can’t even catch a game for the first team.”
So my fine non-complaining, patient Moroccan friend, play on Sunday, leave the link up play to RVP and TR7, and you get in the box and play with you face to goal and get on the end of the crosses that will assuredly come in if we play this way. Sunday may well be your parting gift to the Arsenal so I sincerely hope you are remembered as the hero who helped us secure Champions League football once more and not the shisha smoking Clown some think you are.
Until next time thanks for reading
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