Arsenal have made an indifferent start to the 2017/18 season. Currently sitting in sixth place on 13 points, they are only two points off the top 4 but are already nine points behind table-toppers Manchester City. It already looks like the title is out of reach for the very few that thought Arsenal had a chance at winning it. It seems like the same problems continue to show their ugly head. No midfield balance, not tracking back, and a lack of steel. But for the two midfielders that this piece is centred around, you would be hard-pressed to find people that attach those qualities to these academy graduates.
The centre midfield position in football is fundamental for any success. The engine room of the entire team has to function as a cohesive unit as the focal point of the team. In recent games however, the Arsenal defence has been lacking the creativity in that area that is needed to push the team forward. To highlight the lack of creativity coming from that area of the Gunners, the only two players with more than one assist this season are Granit Xhaka and summer signing Sead Kolasinac. To put that into perspective, table toppers Manchester City have six players who have multiple assists this season with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne combing for 11 themselves. Granted that chief playmaker Mesut Ozil has been in and out of the side due to injury, but it’s evident that Arsenal are in desperate need of more creativity.
That’s where Jack Wilshere comes in. His performances in the Europa League this season have had an extremely nostalgic yet upsetting feel about it. He has marshalled the games and been the driving force behind everything good that has happened with the team. In his most recent performance against Red Star Belgrade, it was clear to see why the Gunners faithful were clamouring for Wilshere to return to first-team football. In the lead up to the winning goal, he and Walcott played a beautiful 1-2 pass and Wilshere returned the pass with an outrageous outside of the boot spinning pass that highlighted the guile and unorthodox thinking this Arsenal attack has been lacking. But with a severe injury record, Wenger’s tentative approach to Wilshere is understandable. In a season where he is playing for a new contract, allowing him to play the game at 100% is imperative rather than risking a further injury setback.
With the current personnel that the Gunners currently have at their disposal, a change in formation to a 3 man midfield with 4 at the back could suit them best, and this could mean the reintroduction of Francis Coquelin. The man nicknamed ‘The Policeman’ by club legend Thierry Henry has steadily fallen down the pecking order due to the form of others and injuries. Brought back from Charlton to feature in a starring role in the 2014/15 that culminated in a starting role in the FA Cup final, Coquelin was instrumental in the middle of the park. The partnership he formed with Santi Cazorla was instrumental to the success that Arsenal found but with the acquisition of Granit Xhaka, he was demoted to the bench. However, the Frenchman does have a unique skillset that nobody else in the team does. Not the prettiest on the ball, his rugged approach to the game and ability to snuff out opposition attacks has been missed in the middle of the park as Ramsey and Xhaka have been frequently exposed to the counter-attack.
The Xhaka-Ramsey pivot in the middle of the park offers the back 3 very little protection with Ramsey often finding himself closer to the opposition goal rather than our own. A switch in formation to bring in Wilshere and Coquelin could prove fruitful adding steel but also creativity. However, it is highly doubtful that Wenger utilises this formation because it would force Ozil into a wider position unless Wenger was to run a diamond formation and put two strikers up front. The two Arsenal graduates could easily find their way back into the team as their qualities are few and far between in the rest of the squad, but whether this will happen remains to be seen.