There was much doom and gloom after 2 poor performances against Tottenham and WBA only for the light to once again break through on Tuesday night versus Zagreb. The sense of frustration from the Arsenal supporters is tangible and real however and it is not down to performance levels as much as the continual injury blight that impacts our progress seemingly in the Autumn every season. I would be stating the bleeding obvious to observe that the majority of fans thought we needed more outfield additions in the summer and that Wenger’s reticence to buy squad players might be about to bite him viciously on his derriere.
That being said he may just have been fortunate that Manchester City have hit a wall and are suffering similar injury problems, exacerbated last night with Joe Hart limping off. Man City have also only taken 1 point from a possible 6 in the past 2 Premier League outings and despite seeing United and Leicester leapfrog the two title favourites I highly doubt the best bookmaker will be changing their odds.
So with Arsenal seeing key players such as Bellerin and Ramsey return ahead of the likes of Kompany and Silva the question is who has enough to reassert their credentials ahead of the big match on the 21st December? One of the main protagonists will enjoy Christmas more than the other and I suspect it may well be the Gunners.
My optimism and I am surprising myself in saying this is down to a renewed faith in our squad players over that of our rivals and particularly those on the blue side of Manchester. I am in no way condoning the lack of transfer activity, as we universally expressed concern at what may happen if Coquelin was out for any length of time but he timing could have been worse. I say that because Wenger has 7 matches between now and the opening of the transfer window to assess his alternatives and that process evidently began well this week. Of those 7 only 2 are against teams in the top half of the league.
I believe there 3 key decisions on positions and personnel that he has to make but the most significant has to be who will play in the centre of midfield in Coquelin’s absence? Now may Arsenal supporters would love to see Aaron Ramsey restored to his favoured role but a question mark hangs over His ability to form an effective partnership with Cazorla. Knowing Wenger and his is reluctant to tinker with a system he feels is working well so I suspect he will leave the Spaniard in situ and just slot Flamini in for Coquelin as he did on Tuesday in the Champions League.
Now we can also question the quality of the opposition and whether they provided a true test of the Frenchman but the simple fact of the matter is he was superb in the Coquelin role. If you are in the camp suggesting he was not tested one could counter with the argument that the next 3 Premier League games are against 3 of the worst teams in the division. Flamini is a battler, he reads the game well and he never ever gives up on a cause. He passes well, simply and effectively feeding his play-making colleagues and despite being able to burst in the box with excellent timing, has the discipline to know his role. He is undoubtedly the closer matched swap for Le Coq if Wenger wants to keep things the same. He is discounted along with Arteta with the expression ‘his legs have gone’ but he is actually only 31 and had not had a career blighted with as many serious injuries as our club captain. Another crucial factor when considering is lack of pace, which is a concern, is the pace of those around him. In his favour therefore he will be playing with Bellerin and not Debuchy and I suspect with Ramsey.
That brings us onto decision two which is who to play on the right and here Wenger finds himself with an embarrassment of riches all of a sudden. We have today been told that Chamberlain is most likely available for the Norwich squad and anyone who failed to acknowledge the accomplished performance of Joel Campbell on Tuesday is churlish, blind or has an agenda. We have all doubted him at times but his all round game included all the attributes required in the right midfield/wing position in the current set up defensively and showed glimpses of craft and creativity as well. So both Ox and Joel give us great options on the right but I assume and hope that Ramsey, having come though unscathed with revert to the role that he has filled since March.
I was not initially keen on the Ramsey on the right solution but happily admit to being wrong and his work rate and innate sense of when to cover in field will assist Flamini/Cazorla and the lack of it has been noticeable in his absence. Earlier in the season he was staring too far across the pitch in attack and getting in the spaces and pockets where Alexis and Ozil needed to work but this was worked out and the lopsided system now works well for the Gunners. It reminds me as I have written before of the beautiful Parlour/Overmars imbalance of 97/98. Parlour whilst playing wide knew when to tuck in and support Vieira and Petit when the Fluting Dutchman marauded forward to join the attack.
The final decision is one that Wenger may not need to make but I sense he was checking it out against Zagreb. Moving Alexis through the middle and resting Giroud not the globetrotting Chilean was most enlightening. I think in that moment Arsene revealed that Walcott is not as close to a return as we all hoped and with Welbeck not available until 2016 that he needs a plan B for the central striker role. So despite universal concern at the ability of Sanchez to keep playing so much with little rest Wenger wanted to see him through the middle and guess what his player did not let him down.
With those 3 decisions made I strongly feel that Arsenal will have enough to win through the next 3 league outings and face Man City on the 21st in a position of strength. It is also 3 games in which our attacking players have to regain their shooting boots as it is the goal difference that could be crucial at the end of the campaign. I believe Arsenal will top the Premier League at Christmas despite losing Francis Coquelin but I also still believe that whether we stay there will depend on the decisions made in January when the club I assume will know more about not just Le Coq but Wilshere and Welbeck as well.
Until next time in my Shoot Column on Monday.
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