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.
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?
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?
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