Forget the injuries as those who deserve to play are fit – Jack, Santi and Ox.

Santi 2012/13 version please stand up
Santi 2012/13 version please stand up

I have personal reasons to be looking forward to the Oct 18th and the visit of Hull which involve a book signing with some Arsenal legends. However I am also hugely excited about the match and I suspect in many ways perversely for the same reasons others are anxious about it.

Many are concerned at our growing injury crisis and I am not about to suggest I am not but for this observer at least I suspect out of adversity a team will emerge. When I say a team I mean and team and not a collection of 11 players many of whom are being wedged into a system or position that ill suits them. On occasion when injuries occur those that step in also step up.

In 2001/2 Robert Pires was undisputedly the Best player in the Premier League and acknowledged as such by his fellow professionals but Arsenal coped admirably without him for 3 months on the run to the title. If I told you that Patrick Vieira did not play a single game in October or November of the Invincibles season 2003/4 would you be surprised? Paddy missed 12 matches including a certain 5-1 win in the San Siro. The point is that with the likes of Wiltord, Parlour and Edu even losing our ‘best’ players did not impact the Arsenal team.

A team of champions pay homage to their finest - Bobby Pires
A team of champions pay homage to their finest – Bobby Pires

Well in 2014/15 after years of waiting, in most areas we truly do have huge competition for places and players, not starting each week until now who would walk into most teams in the Premiership and who regularly feature for their national sides. In addition these are players I would argue that are in better form than those who are sidelined in most cases. No one wishes a player injured, well not one of our own anyway but I can freely admit that where I sit, when Ramsey limped off in the NLD one view was shared – It was an injury that saved Wenger a decision he should have made himself but had seemed unprepared to do. Our talisman of 2013/14 was not at that level and everyone in the stadium could see it.  That is not to say Ramsey will not return stronger and more focussed as I am convinced he will. It was ironically the same for Cazorla last season to my eyes. Santi settled in from week one with little pre-season in 2012/13 and took the Premiership by storm. The following season he struggled to impose himself in the same way and for me this was in large part down to the positional change instigated in February 2013.

A decision Wenger might not have made?
A decision Wenger might not have made?

Many will disagree with me and I am aware of that as I have written on this before. I know those who now far more about Wenger’s thinking than I somehow have privileged information that he requires one flying winger and one who tucks in.  For me I like Santi in the middle at CAM where he can influence the game for 90 minutes, can use both feet as no other can and does not need to defend as much as he does (or does not) on the left. Yeah Dave but you can’t have the ‘World’s best Number 10 on the left wing!!’ Well let’s park that debate as it is now a non issue for 3 months. The debate now is solely around Jack and Santi.

Cazorla back pull the strings?
Cazorla back pull the strings?

Wenger clearly feels that Jack’s can be a No.10/CAM call it what you will and he may be correct but right now I would love to see Cazorla back in the role in which he so excelled in 2012/13. For the first 25 league matches of his first season Santi started in the central attacking role, with Podolski on the left. It was only in February during Lukas’s mysterious injury/falling out of favour period that the Spaniard moved the left and Rosicky emerged again as CAM. In those first 25 fixtures let us not forget that Santi’s scored 8 goals and provided 6 assists in his first campaign in a more physical league. When playing behind the striker he was always getting in the box with Giroud, something he does far less when out on the left.  In this role he scored goals in and around the box, who can forget the Reading hatrick, rather than being limited to long range punts. Just watch the positions Santi got in from the 10 role and ask when you last saw Ozil in those positions?

Indeed the stats alone don’t tell the whole story because in many of the matches in the Spring of 2013 and on the run in to securing Champions League football, it was a tactical switch in the last 20 minutes putting Santi back in the centre that turned games. One in particular that comes to mind was Norwich at home where struggling to impose and heading for a draw it was Podolski coming onto the left and Santi moving inside the turned the game with 2 quick goals.

I know I do labour the point on occasions but the point is worth emphasising. Barring Juan Mata in 2012/13 Santi Cazorla was the best playmaker in the Premier League and then we moved him. So this is not an article arguing that Cazorla should be in the centre and Ozil not because that is a non issue at present but it is an article saying that having Cazorla back in the hole is not a weakening of the team. If anything at this moment it will strengthen us as the Spaniard since the spring has shown signs he is getting back to his best and this is his time to shine again. This after all is why we have a squad with depth.

Jack in the role he is made for IMO
Jack in the role he is made for IMO

Having Santi back at 10 allows Wilshere to step back into what I feel is his natural position as the one of the 2 deeper lying CMs with more licence to get forward. It is this role that allowed Ramsey the freedom to express himself in so effectively last season and I believe it is now Wilshere’s time. He has the fitness, the form and I would suggest most crucially the confidence to truly fulfil his potential. A confidence that will only grow, as he plays more minutes for both club and country. If any reader feels that on current form having Wilshere and Cazorla in a 4231 over Ramsey and Ozil weakens us I would strenuously contend that suggestion. There can surely be no observer watching his performance against Estonia who would argue he was not England’s stand out player. Indeed my friend John Cross in his player ratings today has it spot on.

On the flanks I would love to see Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Certainly until Theo is fully match fit which is very soon based on today’s reports from training. In the summer with a fully fit squad I assumed Alexis would play left cutting in and Walcott right or either could have paired with Giroud. Of course all the FIFA and Spanish footie experts told me I was wrong and that Alexis would play on the right or as a striker. ‘You’re an idiot Dave he NEVER played on the left for Barca!!!”  So anyway here we are 7 games in and in his first major TV interview when asked by Sky where he would prefer to play, left, right or centre, Sanchez answers that he is happy to play anywhere but his favourite would be from the left so he can cut in on to his right foot!! – No one likes a Smart Alec Dave!

From the left and goal!
From the left and goal!

So now that is sorted and we have Danny Welbeck playing through the centre and on the left we have Sanchez. We no longer need to play Ozil there as he is injured , Santi there as he is at CAM or Podolski there who is out of favour, as we have a world class talent WHO WANTS TO PLAY THERE! This leaves the right flank position just begging for pace and aggression which we have in abundance with the Ox. I am still baffled as to why he did not start against Chelsea and his form and ability to run at the opposition and stretch them is a huge asset to this team. Arsenal as we all know over elaborate on the edge of the area too often so having Chamberlain who will simply take the full back on and whip a cross in is an invaluable alternative.  We know have a forward willing to thrust into the 6 yard box to convert this time of service.

Now the defensive side of the team for the Hull match is not so straight forward although I assume after an improved performance against Cheslea one assumes Flamini will retain his place and Bellerin will come in for the suspended Chambers. We are where we are thanks to Arsene defensively and our options are limited but that is not the case offensively as I hope I have outlined.

Right 3, right time, right positions, on merit
Right 3, right time, right positions, on merit

I am however going to go one stage further and say that if every attacking player who has been fit this season was fit on the 18th the players I have suggested would still be my choice. So for me the selection of a front 5 of Wilshere, Ox, Santi, Alexis and Welbeck is not a compromise or making do it is selecting the 5 players who on form and commitment and playing in their best roles deserve the starting berths. I don’t feel the attacking injuries will impact us in the coming months and if we can avoid further scares at the back our title odds fully deserve to have us ahead of United and Liverpool in the betting

It is for Walcott, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud to fight for their places when they are fit and that will not be as straight forward as we might have assumed in August.

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  1. Great article Dave, completely agree. It is a shame that Arsene will always back some players to a fault. It does remind me a bit of the vermaelen situation where we persisted with him in 12/13 rather than kos who deserved his place on merit.

    But injuries might have actually conspired to help us this time and as long as we can keep the 5 you outlined fit, then we should be in for an interesting run of games up until Christmas.

  2. I agree with you fully Dave. Ox is ahead of most in my pecking order. Pace, trickery…he has what we need right now. He adds that bit of unpredictability which we have been missing in our games.

    We have a squad now. Players need to fight for their places. Forget the price tags, prove yourself.


  3. You didn’t finish praising the Ox and was he playing yesterday ?

    The Ox Ramsey Willshere are good players. Period.
    Ramsey and Jack so far are one season wonder and that is being generous me.They are not yet world class.
    For a club like Arsenal they shouldn’t be starters as they have plenty to proof.

    Injuries or not I am satisfied from what I have seen so far to lower any hyped expectation.
    Unless the club makes serious surgery on the management front not much will change.

    It beggars believe why on earth he didn’t sign a defensive midfielder all this years when everyone who can watch football sees the blatant void.

    Sure in Wengers defence Dyabi is the answer.Honestly the manager must be in love with this player otherwise what else can be.

    Diaby is the epitome of injury and is spreading his sickness like Ebola to all players.

    I predict Arsene will be his last victim.

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