The word crisis is overused with Arsenal. Media members love to brand any struggles as a crisis. Arsenal certainly are struggling right now, and the loss against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday highlighted how far this team is from their best, but this is not a full-blown crisis. Despite winning only one of their last six games, Arsene Wenger’s men are by no means out of the title race in the Premier League, and they should still be able to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League fairly comfortably.
But there needs to be change around the club for the Gunners to start winning games. I don’t mean change in the sense of player comings and goings. I think we all decided Arsene Wenger had a successful transfer window. Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers have been two of Arsenal’s best players in the early going. Were it not for an unlucky injury, Mathieu Debuchy would be doing pretty well too. And while the book is still out on Danny Welbeck and David Ospina, I don’t have many doubts that they will be successful. Yes, Arsenal is a significantly short in numbers at the back right now, but that isn’t the problem.
The main problem is a lack of cohesion between the players in the side right now, especially in midfield. Between Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere and Sanchez, there should be plenty of creativity in attack. But things are static. Players are getting in each other’s way, taking the positions the others would like to occupy. As a result, they’ve all lacked confidence. That leads to static play, as the playmakers have gone into their shells. Here or there, they’ve displayed some individual brilliance, but they haven’t put much of anything together consistently as a team.
Arsene Wenger’s solution to that problem has been to wait it out. Players of that calibre should be able to figure out how to play with one another sooner or later right? That is where he is wrong. For them to succeed, they need to believe in their abilities to break a team down. And for that to happen, things need to go right. It’s all a big circle of doubt. My solution is to rotate the squad while giving the players a chance to regain their confidence by playing their familiar roles. Go back to the 4-2-3-1 that Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil flourished in last fall. Let them play where they are comfortable.
More than anything else, Arsenal needs Ramsey and Özil to regain their mojo. Personally, I think all of the criticism of Özil is overblown and off the mark. But it’s impossible to deny that he is experiencing a serious existential crisis on the field. For his sake, he needs to play the number 10 role. He needs to be cheered by the Emirates crowd. And he needs to see his passes converted into goals. That isn’t going to happen when he’s wasting away on the wing.
For me, Ramsey’s form has been the most disappointing part of the season. I’m not a fan of him being pushed as far forward as he has been this year. He is at his best when he is tackling in midfield, picking up possession deep, and driving towards the box. He may have scored a couple of goals in August, but his overall game hasn’t been as valuable to the team. People forget that he was with the league leaders in tackles before he got injured a year ago. He can still come up and score goals from timely runs, but much of his game is wasted in the role he is currently occupying.
It might seem harsh to sit Jack Wilshere on Saturday, but I think that’s necessary to getting Özil and Ramsey back to their best, which will only happen if they return to their best positions. Plus, resting his ankle can’t hurt. In Wilshere’s place, I’d like to see Santi Cazorla come back into the team. He was one of Arsenal’s best players in the early going, and didn’t deserve to be dropped. He and Tomas Rosicky are incredibly hard working in midfield, and were vital to the Gunners’ late season success a year ago. They are the engine of the team. One of them is needed to get things going.
I also think that Lukas Podolski or Joel Campbell should get an extended look-in. Arsenal have thus far lacked ruthlessness in front of goal. Podolski and Campbell both could instantly provide that, as both are players always looking to shoot. Campbell’s desire to drop deeper to link up play would help balance play I feel, as he wouldn’t be looking to make the same runs as everyone else. There simply isn’t room for both of these players in the squad, but I think their skill-sets could be a nice counter to what Arsenal has been offering in the final third. When Sanchez is up top, I want to see Podolski on the left. And when a more traditional center forward is deployed, that’s when Campbell should get his chance.
Wenger needs to remember that he has a squad full of internationals at his disposal. When things aren’t clicking, he can’t be afraid to give others a chance. Players like Rosicky, Campbell, Podolski, Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry could all provide something the team is lacking. Wenger can’t be afraid to let them see the field. Diaby particularly is an interesting case.
Perhaps unconventionally, I’d also like to experiment with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the holding midfielder role at some point soon. He has played there once before – in the season finale against Newcastle two years back – and looked quite comfortable. He needs to get into the squad, and I wonder if his pace and physicality wouldn’t suit that role. He would offer less defensive presence than Mikel Arteta, but he might do a better job of covering on counter attacks, and he has the ability to adapt. People often suggest that Wilshere should be converted to a holding midfielder, but I think the Ox would be a better choice for the role. It’s probably best to wait to try him out there in a home match though.
And defensively, it is a simple matter of players needing to be better. Kieran Gibbs should be improving at this stage in his career, and instead he seems to be leveling off – I might even start Nacho Monreal over him right now. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have not been a strong pairing thus far either. I do like Hector Bellerin though. I think he’s going to be really good in a few years. His desire to get forward and the insane skill he has with the ball at his feet will help create chances. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. I’d like to see him get a chance to start at The Emirates, because he’d be an absolute terror bombing down the right.
As far as this weekend, Arsenal have not caught Aston Villa at a good time, as the Midlands side are in spectacular form to begin the season. It may sound simple, but Arsenal need to take their chances should they want to win. The lineup I’d like to see take the field on Saturday is as follows: Sanchez, Podolski, Özil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Chambers, Szczesny. Rosicky, Welbeck, and Oxlade-Chamberlain all need to be ready to play big roles too. If there are offensive woes in the first half, Wenger must be bold with his substitutions.
Should Arsenal lose on Saturday, we might be nearing crisis mode. But fear not. The talent is there. I’m confident Wenger’s men will be firing in no time.