Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain are Edu and Parlour, the New Invincibles!

Perhaps not for Wembley but key roles next season?
Perhaps not for Wembley but key roles next season?

It is the time of year where Arsenal supporters begin to speculate about the potential exits and arrivals this summer. This buzz of anticipation around our summer activity will only be heightened if, as expected now, the Gunners finish strongly as runners up and hopefully retain the FA Cup.

Personally I find myself relaxed about the transfer activity and confident that we will begin 2015/16 in a stronger position than we did 14/15. I am in this mood not because I am convinced Wenger will invest heavily to bolster, although he will, but more because of the quality within the existing squad and what the internal competition will mean if we actually get luckier with injuries.

From what I have seen this season we will enter next with 4 high level central defenders in Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gabriel and Chambers. We have not been in this position for years, perhaps since the early 2000s and that is debatable. We also have 2 left backs and 2 right backs all of whom are able to perform at the level required in the higher echelons of the Premier League. The keeper position is up for grabs and the striking options may be modified but today I want to look at the midfield and most particularly at the often discussed topic of ROTATION.

I am of an age where I grew up with my team having a match day squad of 12 and everybody knowing within one of 2 players who was the first 11. Of course today we have match day squads of 18 and I am not sure many fans know they teams first 11. Or do they? I am sure Chelsea fans do and they have won the league at a canter. The reason my mind is focused on this at present is because Wenger seemingly wants to stick with a formula that is working for him and it involved the same players in the midfield and NO rotation.

I have been waiting in particular to see what happens when Ox is fit to see if that will force Wenger’s hand and urge a move to a more natural balance. However I am beginning to doubt that decision as I simply cannot see him de-selecting Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil or Ramsey between now and the Cup Final. If the return to fitness of Wilshere, a particular favourite of Wenger’s has not altered his strategy it is difficult to imagine the Ox will either.

As you can tell I have been dwelling on this and have written previously here about my concerns at our lack of width and I probably would like to see Ox restored on the right but please don’t ask me who I would leave out! The whole debate both between fans and largely in my head has concentrated my mind on next season, rotation and the fact that I am continually told it is a squad game these days. Tell that to those who are on the bench at Wembley and those who aren’t in the squad at all.

Does Wenger rotate? Will history confirm?

So does Wenger rotate? Maureen has won the Premier League largely without rotating his core but was does the past tells is about Wenger? Does history give comfort to in particular our young English Guns Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who I personally do not wish to see leave the club or be unhappy at lack of opportunity. Surely in the modern era when we are told to challenge for the top honours a team need 2 players in every position, rotation and competing on all fronts will give everyone enough game time?

The last time we did so in all honesty was 2003/4 and how can we all forget the ‘Invincibles’ and what that team/squad achieved. I want to concentrate on the engine room of the central midfield which back then was essentially a 2 man job in a 442, or 4411. I am not necessarily going to draw hard conclusions but I hope the following might get you all thinking!

Firstly can you all name the first 11? Who were the ‘Invincibles?’ You have all seen the graphic designs, the artwork and the memorabilia so you all know that it was – Lehmann, Lauren, Cole, Toure, Campbell, Ljungberg, Silva, Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp and Henry right?

A Popular Myth as it goes

Wrong – That team started only 2 games together in the Premier League, Liverpool in April and the last game v Leicester. That 11 did not stated a single match together in the League Cup, FA Cup of Champions League. So does this startling fact suggest Wenger deployed heavy squad rotation in 03/04 and in particular in the midfield area?

Well here’s is another gem for you – Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira on started 17 of the 38 Invincible Premier League matches together. Good news on the rotation front then? No actually in the main it was Edu who stepped in and primarily when one of the other of the first choice pairing was injured. Edu started 13 of the 38 games 6 stepping in for Paddy and 7 for Gilberto. What of Ray Parlour? Well Razor did actually start 16 times in the league but only 3 centrally and on 13 occasions he played right midfield for Freddie.

Every bit an Invincible – Edu
03/04 Utility Midfielder and Club Legend – Ray Parlour

So with 4 players competing essentially for 2 staring spots, only Edu truly got a true amount of game time in central midfield as he appeared in 30 matches of the 38, as a substitute in 17. Parlour also played 25 times in the undefeated Premier League campaign with 9 appearances being from the bench. Does this give the likes of Jack and Ox comfort for next season? Should it?

Given our injury track record as a club and in particular that of the 2 players concerned I think it might. Just looking at the Invincibles campaign both Edu and Parlour got considerable game time whilst both knowing when all were fit they were always going to be first change players and not necessarily starters. I think also both can take huge comfort in their flexibility.

As we saw in 03/04 The joy of having a player of the quality and adaptability of Edu was that he could seamlessly  coming into the side and play either the Gilberto sitting role of the Vieira box to box role. In the current system whether we stay 4141 or 4231 Jack has the ability to play in any of the 3 central roles with equal aplomb. It may be when all are fit Wilshere would not make Wenger’s 11 but like Edu in 03/04 no Arsenal fan was every concerned to see his name on the team sheet filling in for Gilberto or Paddy.

Versatility is the key for Jack

Similarly with Oxlade-Chamberlain as with Jack I think his age and versatility are in his favour. As with Parlour in 03/04 Wenger will know that he can utilise Ox in a starting 11 on either flank and also use him centrally when required.

Together or instead of

With Wenger hinting at a potential change of heart on bringing in Schneiderlin or another DM the number of multi-functional midfielders also comes in to focus. Tank that he may be Coquelin will not be able to play every single game and Wilshere may well be called upon to play in the deeper role as he has for England. There is no doubt he can play alongside Coquelin as he did as a youngster and we cannot expect Santi to have such a lucky run without injuries again next season surely. Equally he cannot slot in for the Spaniard if Santi is moved forward to rest or replace Ozil. Lastly we all know even if we do not agree that Wenger feels Jack can play at 10, where he started this campaign.

A collective buzz of anticipation when Ox gets ball

It is undoubtedly the same for Ox who Wenger has always hinted he sees in the future more centrally but this season began on the right and last season actually on the left. For me Ox is a player, like Rocky, who when he collects the ball I feel a certain anticipation about what might happen. There is a noticeable buzz in the crowd when he gets the ball at his feet and has space to run into or defenders to take on. He is the closest to Sanchez in that respect, with a similar work ethic and like Wilshere and as with Edu and Parlour in 2003/4 very few Gunners are upset to see ‘The Ox’ lining up for the Arsenal.

I am at the point of rambling now and if I have a conclusion I should make it. Ramsey has shown the benefit of his flexibility this season and Santi Cazorla has done the same. I suspect both will line up in the FA Cup Final in positions neither of them expected to be in August or even December. There is a lesson to be learned for Ox and Jack and am certain both are intelligent and committed enough to acknowledge that fact.  Chamberlain and Wilshere will adapt as Edu and Parlour did so admirably in 03/04 and Rambo and Santi have in 14/15. Edu and Parlour are forever enshrined in the rich tapestry of Arsenal football club as ‘Invincibles’ and we now know it was a squad game than, whether by choice or design and it is a squad game now. There is no reason, however hard it may seem, as they battle injury and watch others play in their stead, why Oxlade- Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere cannot write their names in to a new chapter in 2015/16.

The Very Best of Reserves 04 and 15!
The Very Best of Reserves 04 and 15!

Thanks for taking the time.

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

 

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12 comments

  1. “…Jack has the ability to play in any of the 3 central roles with equal aplomb…”

    Sorry but on this rare occasion must disagree with the author. Jack cannot play defensive midfield on any team that wants to challenge for the title. If we want to be back where we were, scrapping for 4th place, then sure.

    Coquelin is playing because he stepped up in that position to a level where reputations and even the captaincy have been rendered ìrrelevant. That includes Jack.

    At the moment only Ramsey has the physical tools to actually reprise Coquelin’s role. So Jack is a third choice playmaker behind Sanchez n Ozil; and third choice box to box behind Cazorla and Ramsey.

    Again, its very simple : do you want to be competitive or play fantasy football. Jack has never been able to play ANY of the three midfield roles to the standard that the current incumbents are performing at. Thats the reality.

    1. I disagree of course. I suspect we just forget how good Jack can be when he is out for long periods. Potential as yet unfulfilled and the DM role is not all about physicality. Ask Claude M.

      1. Makelele was much stronger than you think and capab l e of holding off bigger players. He also had better defensive anticipation than Jack, and quicker to release the ball and less likely to dribble in his own third. Also Makelele never got in fights simply because he didnt like the dirty stuff he got from opponents. That’s what READY looks like.

        Like I said, you dont win a championship with a developmental player at DM. You need one that understands the position and is mentally prepared to restrict himself to its repetive aspects when necessary. Eg Gilberto or Petit who were better on the ball than given credit for. Also Coquelin who made that mental step and is ready now. Jack is not – and using him at DM is a step backward for the team. So many of all these guys are 28, 29, 30 – its no time for experimenting at DM when we already have a good one.

    2. “Jack cannot play defensive midfield on any team…. ”
      He played four matches for England in the Euro qualifiers in that position and won the Man of the Match on all four occasions.

      1. Rather cheap of you to DELIBERATE cut off the relevant part of the sentence at the end:
        “Jack cannot play defensive midfield on any team…. that wants to challenge for the title.”

        This is the premiership, not an intl knockout tournament and if you want to win the title over this 38 game league season, Jack Wilshere is not the mould of the players who have been at core of defensive midfield for the winners – Coquelin is. At bes, Jack would be like Arteta, with whom we had NOT won the league. Golden boy he is, but for the moment he is Ozil’s backup and need to compete for his place further up the pitch.

        What we need is to either commit to developing Chambers as Coquelin’s backup, or get a readymade defensive midfielder in a transfer this summer. Look at Jack there is wishful thinking. Hell even Ramsey is better suited to that role.

        Better you face up to the facts, instead of cheap and rather obvious misrepresentation of other people’s statement.s

  2. I agree with the comments, Wilshere is not a DM that will win us a title. We need a player like Schneiderlin to challenge Coquelin cos i fear it could be a purple patch. This wouldnt be the first time we face a false dawn. We need Schneiderlin still. For me when all is fit i believe the Ox should start on the right, with Ramsey B2B and Santi as AM.Ozil on the bench im afraid. I do believe though that wilshere can be an Edu just not in the DM role

    1. Guys I said he could cover all positions not that we should play him DM to challenge for the title. I think you will find I suggested we buy Schneiderlin over 2 years ago if you care to look at March 2013 and I have never waivered

      1. While I agree with the sentiments in respect to AOC, I think he is a different case from Wilshere.

        With AOC he offers something different and in a great number of situations one can consider him a sort of 12th man – a player who even if he doesnt start, is of high enough quality to slot in the starting lineup and be of equal or better quality in his own style than a starter. This is a good comparison to Parlour or Edu.

        However if we look at those 3 midfield positiions, Wilshere is not currently good enough to challenge the starter at ANY of those positions. He is by my count:
        – 3rd or 4th best in the DM role: Coquelin/Ramsey/Arteta (and that’s before any assumptions about for example Scheniderlin arriving or Chambers being used there)
        – 3rd best box-to-box behind Cazorla/Ramsey
        – 4th best playmaker behind Ozil/Cazorla/Sanchez (basically he is neck and neck with Rosicky)

        So all in all Wilshere’s presence in the starting lineup at any time would therefore be a downgrade, as opposed to merely offering different-yet-equal qualities.

        That’s an evaluation of where Wilshere IS. If you say he might develop, yes but that is wishful thinking not current output or performance or effectiveness in those roles. And you dont win titles on wishes, you win them on performance levels that players can CURRENTLY be relied on to deliver CONSISTENTLY.

        This I believe is what Wenger was pointing to when he talked about having great belief in Wilshere…..after Wilshere gets “a couple of years of injury free play”. He is saying very clearly the player is not one you can yet rely on – he was just saying it in a positive and nice way.

  3. Jack has more talent than he himself knows. Give him a year without injuries and I truly believe he’ll surprise us all with his skill & drive. As an example of our cluelessness, had we been told Santi would be part of a deep-midfield pairing at the beginning of the season, cries would have gone up about his being our No. 10, Özil be benched, clueless Wenger-out etc (not that those have died down completely: see Andrew’s comments above, even though mö10 has the awareness & skill to pull off THOSE flicks).

    I truly believe Wenger has the nous to rotate enough to keep Ox, Jack, Aaron, Santi, Serge, Isaac, Coq, CC, Abou, Rozza, MÖ & Alexis happy. Just looking at the quality competing for midfield positions makes me want to sing in happiness!! Oooooh, to be a Gooner!!

  4. While I’d never want Jack replacing Coq as a DM, I could certainly see him stepping in to the Cazorla role (particularly in another couple of years when he’s got a bit more experience and Santi is getting on). I do agree that people forget how good Jack can be, cast your mind back to the 2011 home tie against Barcelona where he overshadowed the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi, now that Jack Wilshire I would have in my team any day. I do think rotation is important, any club playing in 4 competitions will require it, and as we know too well, any Arsenal player in form is just a Stoke-like tackle away from the treatment table. COYG!

  5. Hi Dave,

    Excellent piece, definitely gives food for thought!

    I think, like you mentioned, the key to all this is Jack and Alex being sensible enough to realize this. Personally I would start both of them but like you said, who do you leave out? The Ox over Ramsey is an easier pick compared to Jack over Santi – I’m a firm believe that Jack is a better player from deep than advanced positions.

    Anyway, like you mentioned, the core to all this is keeping these two motivated via game time, and I worry at what will happen to the motivation levels if these two are continuously first change IF there are a lack of injuries for long periods of next season. Though, once again, I still feel/hope that the Ox will be reinstated on the right once fit so perhaps Jack is the bigger concern.

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