The beginning of every season yields much promise and hope as to how we might at last conquer the Premier League once more. Year after year every team thinks it could be their season. We normally take stock of what we have and consider whether beyond the starting XI we have enough to compete to the very end, and this season felt like we had enough ‘bodies’ at least to compete. Did we have the quality though?
The simple answer to this question thus far has proved to be ‘No’, purely because when you scratch beneath the surface of a strong first XI, there’s very little quality cover available to call upon. Defensively we look like we’re just about covered, however even in this area we are using players in more than one position to full the void. It’s in midfield that we have real issues. When we play with Ramsey & Xhaka at the base, we are just about functional and the back 3 covers for it when we are at full strength, but the minute one of those links is removed we remain so exposed. We saw it against Watford away, where Ramsey wasn’t there meaning we were less creative and had one less body piling forward. In addition Koscielny had to go off with an injury, meaning the two key components of our team were removed leaving us completely exposed at the back. Elneny isn’t more than someone to utilise to close out a game in my opinion, and with Cazorla out for the long term the only other options that remain are Coquelin and Wilshere. Whilst Wilshere has looked great in the games he’s played so far this season, the true test lies for him in the Premier League.
The really annoying thing is that we actually do have 2 players for every position (finally!) but in doing so, and in keeping faith with the current crop we’ve neglected buying an actual central midfield shield. We know that Wenger tried for Kante, however that aside we’ve not looked to address the issue leaving us short of a man in there. I really like the look of Bakayoko at Chelsea and wonder if we missed a trick in not trying to bring him to the Emirates, however the lack of Champions League football may well have something to do with that. There is a plethora of youth coming up through the academy at the moment and Joe Willock could well be someone we could look to in the future for this type of role, a sort of calming presence in the middle a la Cazorla or Arteta even. But the problem still remains that the right combination of players hasn’t quite been stumbled upon by Arsene Wenger just yet.
There is an added headache for Wenger to deal with, in trying to find a midfield combination that works and is more disciplined by rifling through the squad, the decision has to be made around whether we play the triumvirate of Alexis, Ozil & Lacazette together at last. It’s long been bemoaned that we haven’t played a team that works hard enough and that’s another balancing act that Wenger has to deal with at the moment. He’s had to rely upon the likes of Iwobi & Welbeck in positions that would usually be filled by Alexis & Ozil. In that respect we’ve got players that can somewhat fill the void and be relied upon to a degree, however I’m again not sure they could lead the line. We seem to be a little top heavy and lacking in the midfield and defensive areas, especially the wing back roles. Looking at the respective wing back and central midfield roles, which are absolutely crucial to this formation and system, seem to be lacking in depth. If we had our first XI available every week we’d be absolutely fine and with us not being in the Champions League we may well get away with it for large parts of the season. The injuries look to slowly be subsiding and we should have a full complement of players to select from and that’s when we might really find out if our ‘depth’ levels are worthy of a title challenge. When the Champions League participants get to the sharp end of the competition and we are a little fresher, we may well see the benefits of a more rested first XI (hoping here that we don’t sell Alexis & Ozil in January).
Currently as it stands however, it looks to be an imbalanced squad, but crucially, the lack of Champions League football alleviates some of the pressure to balance the competitions and playing time – it could well end up being the best set of accidental ingredients required to mount a title challenge.
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