Will Wenger take a gamble on the wings this season???
Last season there was much debate about Arsene Wenger’s selection on the right hand side of midfield. Emmanuel Eboue started a total of 28 out of 44 Premier League and Champions League matches.
Theo Walcott started a total of 15 games in the same competitions and this amount was supported largely due to an injury to Eboue midway through the 2007/08 season. Many people questioned why Wenger decided to start Eboue so much and this is backed up by the fact he scored 0 goals last season. A possible answer to why Eboue played so often could be that Wenger wanted some stability to the right hand side.
The idea of two attacking full backs on the flanks seemed a promising idea to Wenger and most fans. The only trouble was that Eboue was not the answer.
Granted, he was able to cover Sagna at times and allow the Frenchman to get forward very often. Eboue was always a better defender going forward than he was at defending. That was the appeal to Wenger. However, it seems Eboue plays better on instinct.
When he comes forward from the back he doesn’t have so long to decide which option to go for. On the wing he was confronted with so many one on one situations that he seemed lost.
On countless occasions he stood up his opponent and tried to knock it past. This often ended in a pathetic tumble and grumpy face. If the game needed changing in an attacking sense, Wenger knew he had Walcott to throw on. There comes a point in some games when defensive balance is simply not needed. This was when Theo was called upon to try and make a difference. Cast your minds back to the Champions League game at Anfield. Arsenal needed a goal and the ineffective Eboue was dragged off and Walcott changed the game with a supersub cameo.
These cameos had been a regular thing towards the end of the season and there is a strong probability that Wenger did not believe Theo ready for a starting berth. He grew as a player towards the end of last season. He learnt that his game needs variety and when he provided it, boy it was a joy to watch.
If Wenger thinks Walcott is ready, we may see a change in how we line up on the wings. Arsenal fans of recent times will remember the days when Overmars, Pires and Ljungberg were causing havoc on the wings with their attacking play. They did not always provide the full backs with help defensively but they got the job done at the other end. Indications in pre-season suggest that Wenger may well change the way he thinks.
Sagna and Clichy are more than capable full backs and can more than hold their own. Therefore, Wenger can afford to release the likes of Walcott forward. Theo was selected in the 1st XI during the Emirates Cup and seems to fit in well now. His team mates trust him with the ball a lot more and he makes things happen. Eboue delivered the odd good cross but it was too infrequent.
It is time for Wenger to take a gamble and let Theo off the leash. From interviews with Theo, it seems that a change of shirt number was planned towards the end of last season. This is another indication that Wenger feels he is ready.
The number 14 shirt is also a further burden for the young man; I tell you now though, if Wenger thought he was not ready for the first team, Wenger would not have given him Thierry Henry’s old shirt, YET. Mentally, his head is in the right place now and suggestions are that he could have a big season now. His goal tally was respectable last season but with his pace, he should be getting into positions to get far more.
Eboue may have to accept a place on the bench, maybe even out of the squad once everyone is back. I just mentioned the rest of the squad in that last sentence and that seems the best way to continue this article. I have been talking about an attack minded team selection from Wenger. On the left hand side we will probably see a faster approach than we did for the majority of last season. With Rosicky out injured for most of the season, Hleb moved flanks and played from the left.
Hleb produced some great moments for this side but his game was a slow paced one. He often slowed the game down, often to great effect, but this side can play with great pace. Both Rosicky and our new recruit, Samir Nasri, play the game with more energy and purpose. They will carry the ball a lot more but can still find that crucial pass. They remind me of Pires in their style and if they can produce the same goal tally he did, it could be so important in this title challenge.
Rosicky has a great team ethic and, when fit, will help out Clichy whenever necessary. Lying deep in aid of the full back also gives him the opportunity to initiate counter attacks. We certainly missed that when he was out. Nasri will also do this and it seems Wenger has a faster paced midfield in mind. This will mean the ball is moved faster and defences will have less time to settle behind the ball.
As well as Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott and Eboue, Wenger has some exciting options up his sleeve for the wings. Carlos Vela spent last season at Osasuna and was usually used on the left side of midfield. His pace and dribbling ability means he excelled in this position and, although he has played as a striker in pre-season, he could be yet another option out wide. My belief is that he will be used off the bench this season but he could inject the same pace Theo did last season when he entered late on.
Arsenal fans might say he has more growing to do, but a season in La Liga is a very good thing he has under his belt. The regular football he got will prepare him for the Premier League and Wenger sees great things for the Mexican. Another guy who has shot onto the scene is young Jack Wilshere.
Wenger has been so impressed by his pre-season form that he has handed him the no.19 shirt, recently vacated by Gilberto. Most young players who enter the first team squad take up a number in the 30s or 40s. This is a number set in the first team squad and this is a big thing for Wilshere. For a 16 year old, he has amazing strength on the ball and fight in him. His technical ability is obvious but the big question was over his small frame and mentality. Two years ago Wenger mentioned a 14 year old that was technically good enough for the first team and just needed to grow. It seems that Wilshere is this player and Wenger has great trust in him.
Pre-season was a test for Jack and now he has shown he is ready for more football, Wenger has rewarded him with the shirt worn an Arsenal Invincible. Wilshere can find a pass and has a football brain that many would die for. It cannot be taught and Wenger will hope this could be of benefit this season, despite his young age.
Wenger is lucky this season in that he has more options for the wing. In my opinion, selecting Eboue was the easy thing to do and the safe bet. This season, Wenger has to be bolder and pick the likes of Eboue. Goals from midfield are crucial and Eboue does not provide. The other players in the squad can score goals and Wenger’s best sides have contained free scoring midfielders.
I want to see performances similar to what we saw from Pires and Ljungberg and sadly Eboue is not good enough to do so. This is the season to take that gamble on the wings.