December 1st December 2016, the news fell on this day that all Arsenal fans were dreading; Santi Cazorla needed ankle surgery and would be out for months. The diminutive Spaniard is completely essential to the way the Gunners play; he interlinks the defence and attack by stringing attacks together from the middle of the park.
His importance to the team is shown by the drastic drop in win percentage when he isn’t playing. Since the start of the 2014/15 season, the Gunners have won 65.5% of the Premier League matches in which he has started (36 out of 55). When translated into points, that’s 2.1 points with Santi, 1.6 without him. Since his injury, Arsene has tampered with many partnerships and still hasn’t found the right mix, and here I’ll explore each of the players that are available and what they bring to the team.
Xhaka has the promise to be a great talent at the heartbeat of the Arsenal midfield but alas his performances haven’t been good enough. On far too many an occasion, Xhaka is caught dwelling on the ball and when pressed high, can have difficulties find his way out and automatically puts the defence under duress. His lack of mobility can be a problem as smaller diminutive players can easily work their way around him.
However, I feel that Wenger has done Xhaka a disservice by utilising him as a holding midfielder. He doesn’t have the motor to continually press for 90 minutes nor does he have the defensive nous to sniff out attacks like a Kante or Gueye. He would be much better suited in a midfield 3 where he can have runners either side of him, but can still control the tempo of the game with his advanced passing ability.
The Welshman is a favourite when fully fit. He has been used poorly by Wenger this season, starting the first game of the season after the Euros, subsequently picking up an injury and ruling him out for weeks. Ramsey has an innate ability to make excellent third man runs and times his entry into the box extremely well. This skill with his seemingly unlimited energy makes him a valuable asset in midfield if used correctly shown by his fruitful 2013/14 where he bagged 16 goals and the FA Cup winning goal.
But for all his talents, Ramsey is injured all too often and what is more concerning, they seem to always be muscular injuries. He tends to find continuity in his game then gets injured which brings in to question his reliability and whether he can be called upon when necessary. He also tends to try the unnecessary flamboyant when the easier option is necessary, handing over possession in this process.
The Egyptian has been a fine acquisition from Basel, comfortable protecting the back four or playing the box-to-box midfielder role. He has unbridled amounts of energy and is constantly looking for the forward option when he is on the field. His goal in the Champions League was expertly taken, proving he does have the ability to finish when called upon.
However, it seems that Wenger favours the more glamorous name when picking the centre midfield duo. Elneny can sometimes be limited with the majority of his passes tending to be lateral, but he rarely stands stagnant when playing the ball, always looking to make himself an option. He deserves more game time, as he brings more balance to the team.
Nicknamed ‘The Policeman’ by club legend Thierry Henry for his authoritative nature in the middle of the field, Francis Coquelin has been a revelation since being recalled from Charlton. His all-action displays are extremely beneficial as he protects the back four extremely well and is very tenacious in the tackle. He seems to be very vocal on the pitch, organising the midfield, and taking leadership when necessary,
On the other hand, Francis is limited when it comes to his technical ability. He lacks the ability to drive the team forward with killer passes with his attempts often being over hit or finding themselves out of play. Although crucial to the team, he lacks the creative mindset to be a link between defence and attack.
The 25-year-old golden boy of Arsenal Football Club, the man who should have been the cornerstone of our club for years to come. Jack is possibly the closest player in our club in terms of technicality to Santi Cazorla, but hasn’t fulfilled his potential largely due to injury. His dribbling ability is unique and can seemingly glide through challenges when surrounded. He has playmaking ability and can most definitely interlink the defence and attack with his wide passing range and ability. Finally, he has the passion that derives from being at the club for a long time which many of the other players simply don’t possess.
But as previously mentioned, he has been dogged by a series of injuries that have seen him lose out on much-needed game time. What seems to be a small injury can turn into months for Jack and his ability to make an impact has seriously come into question.
The centre midfield was the driving force of Arsenal teams of yesteryear but football has changed since then. All these players have attributes that benefit the team, but only 2 can start in the 3-4-2-1 system that Wenger has deployed, and here may lie the problem. When faced with adversity, we seem to not be able to move out of this system and try something new. It may be in Arsenal’s best interest to abandon this system and move to a more fluid variation of 4-3-1-2 allowing the midfielders to express their respective talents, while giving Ozil a free role to be the creator in chief. This could allow Lacazette and Sanchez to partner each other up top to form a lethal strike partnership.
Let me know what you think and what you would do.