Every good army has the second battalion at the ready to provide suppressive fire. The initial assault fails? You have a group of soldiers equipped with the skill set to drive those around them to victory with ruthless aggression. Whether it be Mesut Özil or Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s first battalion is one of the best in the world, but even the best face failure, and when failure arises, are the second battalion of the Gunners ready to endure an onslaught and ensure the Arsenal reign victorious?
Providing suppressive fire are the wide men, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey, with the latter being a square peg in a round hole. This season has seen a reignited Theo Walcott, ruthlessly terrorising opposition full backs, whilst ensuring his own is not disadvantaged. Arsenal’s top scorer of the season with 8 goals, the Englishman is making the doubters of his ability shrivel up, with their ready made articles being rendered useless. The monumental change in the 27 year old can be put down to two factors. An astonishing change in mentality which has seen a previous reluctant individual playing within himself become an absolute animal, devouring opposition defences at will. The second factor is Alexis Sanchez. Whilst not prolific in the role himself, by interchanging with the Chilean, especially when the centre forward drops deep to instigate play, Walcott vacates the space left by the charismatic forward. Whilst this can initially be perceived as negligent to the Arsenal system as the right side is now vacated, this is not in fact the case. Hector Bellerin is a crucial piece of the Arsenal jigsaw, occupying the space Walcott has left behind, offering a permanent outlet to the midfielders. It is no coincidence that since the Spaniard’s absence the Gunners are yet to win a game, the 21 year old is pivotal to Arsenal’s title aspirations.
Alex Iwobi on the other flank offers a completely different proposition. The Nigerian international is a “Raumdeuter”, a space interpreter. Alex alleviates creative responsibility from Mesut Ozil, occupying space the German previously had to cover by himself, creating confusion amongst the opposition midfielders. Take Walcott’s goal against Chelsea for example. Iwobi offers an outlet to Ozil, occupying the space between the defensive midfielder and the centre half, a space the German world cup winner previously occupied. With two players able to interchange this role, the Chelsea midfield and defence are confused, and the Gunners ruthlessly capitalise, with Iwobi releasing Bellerin, who consequently served the ball up on a plate for theo to dispatch. The importance of Bellerin, Walcott and Iwobi all evident in the move, a foreshadow of what was to come in the absence of the Spaniard.
Then comes Oxlade Chamberlain, who for all the abuse received thus far this season, has been critical as an alternative off the bench, and has also delivered when starting. As mentioned in “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, Chamberlain’s influence this season isn’t purely down to himself, however, the Gunners faithful. Providing a useful alternative late into games, such as playing right back against United, and delivering an awe-inspiring cross for a typical bullet header from Giroud, the Englishman will find himself pressurising both Iwobi and Walcott from a starting position, and if he is to take the chance, the Ox will be set to terrorise defences throughout England on a basis that consists of more than 15 minute cameo’s.
Despite all three players offering different alternatives, it appears Arsene finds solitude in Ramsey, with the Welshman rather reluctantly fulfilling the Frenchman’s requests. With only three possible distinctive wide options, the Gunners are an injury away from crisis. Whilst many will say Alexis can simply return to the wing, understand this. Disruption creates problems, not solutions, and if Alexis is to be Arsenal’s Suarez, he must be left undisturbed.