So Giroud is injured – What then?

Indispensible??
Indispensible??

This is undoubtedly the question keeping Arsenal fans up at night. Most of us feel Wenger should have brought in another striker before the deadline and his interest in Higuain and Suarez and his move for Ba suggests he felt the same.

The only like for like replacements are Bentdner, Sanogo and Apkom if the Gunners are to play the same way in a Giroud absence through rest or injury. I rate Nico if he is back at his best but I am not sure how long that will take and I have not seen enough of the 2 youngsters but they are not likely to be thrown in for multiple games at this stage.

I have been considering this issue and what might happen if the worst case scenario occurred before the January window? Is it the disaster many are making it out to be or could we adapt our style of play to cope with the loss of Olivier? At present the team works because he is in it and I would not argue that point. His hold up play and the way he brings others into play are up there with the best. His work rate too cannot be underestimated as well as his presence defending set piece play. I do have a wry smile at the praise heaped upon him given the stick he got from our own supporters and the media last season. His second season was always going to show a vast improvement as I suggested in August. For me if we are to invest in January the striker needs to be a squad understudy to Giroud or a totally different style of player to give us alternative options. However that question is for December and today I want to consider the option/possibilities between now and 1st January.

Returning options
Returning options

We should have Podolski and Walcott available in October, or at worst early November, both of whom have played centrally for Arsenal in the present system last season. One could argue with varying degrees of success. No one would argue that Theo or Lukas do not know how to finish. In fact one could argue that both are more accomplished and cooler finishers than the Frenchman. In my research on twitter it seems that many have reservations about both when it comes to hold up play and in the case of Podolski some question his movement and particularly his work rate. I would echo those reservations but both are different players and my guess is that the team could easily adapt to playing a different style particularly is Podolski was given the central role. Why do I believe this?  Because we have a more creative players and better players than we did last season and because better players can adapt to varying styles of play.

We have seen clear evidence of this in recent weeks. Deprived of all 4 first choice wide men/wingers we have adapted our style and our formation. In the case of the home match versus Napoli we did this with devastating effect. We played a much narrower game, using speed of passing and movement without necessarily using the flanks, barring fullback over lap. I would argue at times it has been a 4411 system with Ozil relieved of most of his defensive responsibility but that debate is for another day also.

The argument against Podolski playing as our sole striker and of course Walcott is that they do not hold the ball up and bring others into play as Giroud would do and that we could not cope without that style of centre forward. I think this is insulting to the quality of payers we have and their ability to cope with new ideas and new systems. If we had Podolski as our main striker with Ozil just off him instead of playing narrowly and feeding balls into the striker we would play wide and use the trickery of Carzorla and the pace of Walcott to get behind opposition full backs and cut the ball back into an oncoming striker. Podolski may not be superb with his back to goal but there are few better at arriving in the box facing the goal and timing runs into the right positions.

 

Know each other's game so well
Know each other’s game so well

If I was good with whizzy graphics I would illustrate but I am sure you get the point. It is about using the players and tweaking the system to use Podolski and I have no doubt that have Ozil at CAM would make a huge difference. The 2 Germans have played together so many times for their country and have a superb understanding and knowledge of each other’s game.

I did some research because for all you doomsayers out there this has happened to Arsenal before when playing the same system that ‘required’ a strong target man striker to whom the ball would stick. Guess what the team adapted:

November 7th 2009 to 9th February 2010 

Arsenal after a good start to the 2009/10 campaign are  2nd in the table on 25 points after 11 games are now without BOTH of their first choice target men in the club’s chosen 4231 system. Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bentdner are ruled out with long tern injuries and the club is 2 months away from being able to add players.

What happened?

Arsahvin leading the line with Dudu to help without RVP and NB52
Arsahvin leading the line with Dudu to help without RVP and NB52

Andrey Arshavin the smallest player at the club played as the main striker for 14 games often interchanging with Eduardo, the second smallest who came in for the Russian on the left.

After a slow start that saw us lose to Sunderland away 1 Nil and to home to Chelsea the team adapted and went on a 10 match unbeaten run in the Premier League which included 7 wins and  3 draws, before succumbing to defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea. So over 14 games we lost 4, won 7 and drew 3, and 3 of the 4 defeats were to the only 2 sides that finished that period above us in the table. The squad adapted its style of play to the strengths of a fragile Dudu and a diminutive Russian playmaker at centre forward.  The team without a strong focal point striker scored 24 league goals in that period with Eduardo and Arshavin scoring 2 and 3 respectively. It was the supporting cast most notably Fabregas at CAM who stepped up the plate with Cesc himself notching 5 goals.

At the end of this trying period for Wenger and Arsenal and when Bentdner returned we had only dropped one place in the table and sat 3rd after 25 games, albeit 9 points off top spot. With Bentdner back as the sole striker we went on a run in which Nico (yes NB52) scored 8 in 13 games and Arsenal by the end of March had closed the gap to 3 points and were bang in contention for the title. So, with 6 games to go we were third, sitting pretty with an easier run in than United or Chelsea.  In many people eyes Arsenal were favourites for the title. So what happened that saw us fall from favourites in a 3 horse race to finishing 11 points off Chelsea by the 9th of May, an 8 point swing?

Nico on fire 2010
Nico on fire 2010

We had our strikers back. Bentdner played the majority and RVP started or came on in the last 5, and still we managed to lose to Blackburn, Wigan, Spurs and draw with Man City. Why if the strikers were so critical? Because sadly we had lost our creativity and our supply line. Cesc Fabregas missed the last 6 games through injury and we went 5 games with only 1 win taking  points before a win on the final day against Fulham.

What is the moral of this sad story and why is it relevant to Arsenal in 2013/14 four seasons later? It is relevant because that season proved that for a long period Arsenal, with top quality creative players and intelligent players such as Fabregas, Diaby, Nasri and Arshavin a team can adapt to losing its focal point in attack. As I suggested in this blog in late July it is as much is not more about the supply line. In 2010 Arsenal adapted and to a degree thrived without a main striker but imploded when they had a main striker but lost their main supply line.

Strikers back but no Cesc supply line no goals 2010
Strikers back but no Cesc supply line no goals 2010

So to pull this together it is my believe that with Ozil, Ramsey and with Walcott and Cazorla returning Arsenal have so much creativity it is embarrassing. The supply line and the intelligence of that supply line particularly of Ozil and Santi would mean an easy adapting to a team shorn of Giroud. Whether Wenger chooses to rest the Frenchman when Podolski is fit in a few weeks or in the worst case he is injured I strongly feel we would seamlessly adapt to Podolski’s differing strengths. Add to this the obvious relationship that the 2 attacking Germans have from their time spent on international duty I am not as worried as many seem to be.

In short I do not believe that with the addition of Mesut Ozil and the return of the other wide players the team would need to have Podolski trying to play like Giroud. History proves we adapted to having Arshavin as the main focal point of the attack in 09/10. Of course AA23 did not play the role as Bentdner or van Persie would have done and the team adapted. More recent history has seen us adapt our style to accommodate central midfielders in wider roles whilst our wingers rehabilitate at Colney and at the gym using creatine to regain full fitness.

Does Podolski need to hold the ball up as well as Giroud, win headers like Giroud and play with his back to goal like the Frenchman if he plays centrally for Arsenal? No in short he does not, he needs to play to his strengths and the creative players and the system will adapt in the same was as we have in recent weeks without our 4 wide players. Other teams rotate strikers weekly and systems with them. Arsenal are beginning to show the same versatility in 2013/14. It is a strength that teams who challenge have and it is a strength that Arsenal had when we were winning. Kanu, Bergkamp and Wiltord are all very different players and all played with equal success alongside Thierry Henry.

Diversity and variance in style of play is a strength and not a weakness and we should all embrace it and not fear it regardless of what happens in January.

Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66

 

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26 comments

  1. No prob. The Pod & Theo are on their way back and our problem has been no recognised wingers, yet we’re still top. With Santi, Pod, Theo & Ox, we’ll have our mojo back. Ozil has been unable to pick out any ‘runners’ ‘cos we’ve had none. Look how many times he set up Theo in the one prem game he played with him. With our wingers back we’ll be cutting through defences and i expect Theo & Pod to bang in a sackful soon. With that kind of attack, NickyB can do a job in holding the ball up. Giroud only averages about 1-2 shots a game. The main bulk of our attempts come from midfield/wide.

  2. podolski and walcott better be back after international break.
    giroud looks very clumsy and is guilty of missing good opportunities. 2 misses yesterday.
    first impressions last (remember the opening day of last season when he missed that sitter and we drew)
    it seems the only time he scores is when the ball comes with pace from the wings and he can sidefoot it in.
    we want a clinical striker who knows where the net is even if his back is facing it (and thats not giroud)
    as a supporter you are extremely worried when you needing a goal in the last 10 minutes and your only hope is bendtner.

  3. Nice one. I also think Ozil can play as a false 9 (he’s as gud as Messi in terms of skills and movement ) with Rosicky behind him or Ramsey as a false 9 with Ozil behind him. For me, Ramsey is quite similar to Bayern’s Muller. Similar with stature, pace and shooting. If Muller can successfully play d false 9 role,den I think Ramsey can too.

  4. This is one of the best pieces i have read in a very long time and something i have been saying since we got ozil.

    I just can’t wait to see ozil and podolski together because it only looks like there will be one outcome, GOALS. Looking at the west brom game we missed theo and podolski big in that game and i think losing theo was a huge blow, the biggest thing i keep saying and most so called pundits seem to be missing is we are winning tough games and are top of the epl top of the group of death in the cl and we have managed this with what 4 key attacking players out injured and im not counting arteta who just got back, and sanogo once we have theo and carzola back we have so many more options add to the hopefully a cristmas time return for podolski and hopefully cambo just as the fixture are piling in we will look very strong and those idiots that spoke about squad will look well like idiots. I have said all along if by cristmas we dont get any new long term injurys and can stay top of the epl or there abouts we will have a big chance weather we strenghten or not because just the players to return will mean that we can change things round and to be honest since the Villa game we have been the only team that have shown real consistency. Yeah Liverpool have been good but they aren’t in europe which means that they have played 4 games less than us which is a huge amount at this stage and they haven’t had injures like we have and I don’t i seen them play a single game and thought yeah they look good, they looked good against Palace but my 5 a side team could beat Palace us that said we have beem the best so far and we have managed through injury through aculstered fixture list and after a tough first game so these a massive positives we have to get behind the team and trust them and the manager.

    COME ON ARSENAL

    1. What most people miss is the fact that every other team has 2 crucial players who if they get injured will just screw the team up.
      Liverpool have scored goals only after Suarez returned, without him it was only Mignolet’s brilliance which got the points for them early on.
      Spurs still are unable to score regularly and have all their hopes pinned on Eriksen, if he gets injured they are back to playing defensive mids and Sigurdsson – and actually Lloris has got them a lot many points, it didnt work this time and u see the result.
      Similarly, Rooney/RVP for MU, and Toure, Aguero, Silva for MC. Without Aguero and Silva, how did MC do? (BTW, cant wait for Real to bid for Aguero…will be fun to see City and Suarez’s faces if that happens)
      If we take 3-4 top players from each team (in terms or assists and goals – Theo, Santi, Pod were involved in most of our goals), and put them out with 2 month injury layoff, most of the other big 6 will not even win.

  5. I loved reading this stuff mainly because your approach is to find alternative solutions in adversity. This piece typifies it. That is much like how Arsene does things, he finds a way to adapt the system to suit the resources he has. Many times its subtle enough to not get noticed, but retrospectively, one is always left thinking – ah, so thats what he tweaked. Most other blogs and commenters are at most able to see problems and thats when they declare doom and gloom and what not. Imagination should be the minimum requirement for writing, isnt it?

    1. Thanks Animesh. It is comments like this that make the writing rewarding. I do try and stay fresh in an increasingly crowded AFC blogging space. Thanks for taking the time my friend. Are you on twitter?

      1. Naah man, still don’t have enough to say to justify having an account, but an avid commenter on most AFC blogs, might take the plunge some day 🙂

  6. I like the way we settle for less with all sorts of theories, it is indeed a fact that what Arsenal has been lacking is a ruthless finisher, chances are always there. Why else does RVP score 43 goals and go to a strong and title winning MAN-U still as their main striker but score only 25 goal? Less supply. I have seen a number of chances created by the likes of Ozil but Walcott and co fail to finish time and again. All the theories expressed here are only good coz we have no choice but the best scenario buy the calibre of Suarez, RVP or Lewadosky and win titles

  7. I always look forward to reading everything that comes up on this blog Dave. Your wealth of knowledge of the game & the team courses through. You create nostalgia with Arsenal history effortlessly. I read a lot of Arsenal blogs but it is yours I enjoy the most.
    Nicklas Bendtner will do well at Arsenal in his second coming- that’s if he’ll be given the chance. Flashes of the control he could bring for us upfront could be seen in the few minutes he played in our last game against West Brom. NB52 played his 1st match for 9 months surrounded by kids in the Capitol One tie. 120 minutes of boring stuff. But the sight of Nicky fighting for our team was comforting. Although he missed a good chance, it was obvious that if he had gotten up to 3 chances in the game, he wouldn’t have kept on blowing them away. He would have scored. The desire was there to see. And the confidence. Nicky needs match-time. No matter how well Giroud does per game, Nicky should get at least 25 minutes. 30 minutes is more like it. The use of Javier Hernandez comes to mind. Arsenal can do better.

    1. You are very kind Ben and your long standing support of my amateur ramblings are very much appreciated. Dave

    2. I agree on the workrate observation with Nicky, and the fact that he needs minutes; think that’ll be the kind of approach Wenger might use in games we are winning somewhat comfortably. NB might offer a little more speed and sure-footedness/shooting accuracy, while still being able to play the hold-up game adequately. His attitude over the past couple of years has been appalling, but we should always want any Arsenal players to do well for us, regardless of bad blood and history. Here’s hoping Nicky B isn’t an exception.

  8. Good post and nice reminder that we would have won the league in 09/10 if Fabregas hadn’t got injured. Recall saying that at the time but had forgotten – your stats make it pretty clear!

  9. Great read.This,sire is another reminder to the goonersphere that you’re one of the best blogger around.I’ve always pointed out to those who care to listen that we have scored in every PL match that we’ve played this season(despite missing four wingers) and that’s exclusive to Arsenal in the PL(No team has done that,not even Chelsea with their attacking wealth). It remains to be seen if this will continue for the rest of the season,but it only points to a fact:we arguably have the best set of creative midfielders in the PL! Can’t wait for Walcott,AOC,Cazorla and Podolski to return. Good times ahead for us. COYGs!!!

  10. This is my first read on this blog, absolutely world class!! i have been missing such quality work? and the pictures make it whole lot enjoyable!! Keep up the excellent work Dave!! #COYG!!

  11. At time people forget the quality we have indepth bcos they’re being blinded by the obssession of signing new players. Ramsey is an obvious example to that and who would have thought Gnabry will produce in the absent of recognised wingers. The option of Theo or Poldi to me poses more goal scoring threat than Giroud. Giroud no doubt is on top of those two when it comes to movement and hold-up play but far behind making direct runs at goal and also in terms of chances conversion. I bliv the team’s best performance is just around the corner when we have our injured players back. Am still waiting how Wenger’s going to handle that by the time he’s spoilt for choices.

  12. Very interesting piece, Dave. I agree that Podolski has what it takes to play centrally and that our other forwards are adaptable to change their game to suit his abilities. The one caveat, though, is that it might take time. When you slot in slightly different types of players or change the system slightly, you’re never quite sure if it will click immediately or if you need to put in the hours on the training pitch.

    The interesting one, for me, is how Walcott would fare centrally. I wrote in my blog on Theo this time last year that eventually he’d look to play the Henry role as there are strong similarities in their games, but for him to do so would require a change of shape and a strong double pivot in midfield to enable him to play on the shoulder, rather than as a target man. Well, with Ramsey doing his best Paddy Vieira impersonation at the moment and one of Flamini or Arteta beside him, quietly playing the Gilberto role, we have exactly that. Exciting times.

  13. Great write up Dave. I always look forward to reading your well summed up articles.
    Just the thought of our injured players coming back soon gives us so much joy. The Boss will have one hell of a selection headache :P… But what a sweet headache this will be..
    Keep the good work mate

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