Thursday, February 29, 2024

Transfers have changed the attack, but what can we do about midfield?

Good morning everyone, welcome to another Friday, and now that the transfer window is closed – dare we even say, slammed shut despite the fact it’s not a real window? – the focus turns to actual football.

There are no more distractions now, although you can be sure that despite involving ourselves in the craziest January I can ever remember, we’ll definitely talk about how distracting it was. Perhaps that’s convenient in some ways for Arsene Wenger, the 3-1 defeat to Swansea on Tuesday night would ordinarily have sparked a lot more debate and introspection, but when you sign a top class striker and tie down a key player to a new contract the day after that tends to shift the focus a little bit.

No doubt the manager will be asked about his dealings this month and how he’s basically ripped up the Arsenal attack in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Certainly not in such a short space of time and while it makes things interesting, it also presents some challenges for him.

Does he play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang tomorrow against Everton, for example? He’ll only have had a couple of training sessions, and despite almost a full week between signing and the game on Tuesday, he left Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the bench at Swansea. I wonder, given how we played in that match, if he might consider that a mistake in hindsight and decide that he might as well go for it with Aubameyang.

It feels like this is a team which is in need of a lift, something different and maybe a bit brave in terms of team selection. Given the attacking options we have at our disposal, I think we’re now looking at a situation where we revert to the back four and look to get the ‘extra’ man further up the pitch, or at least in the centre of midfield, where something really has to change.

I think Granit Xhaka needs a spell out of the side, for his good and for the team, so Wenger has to decide how best to replace him. Will it be Mohamed Elneny, a safe option, but one whose ball retention could help things function a little better. I watched Adrian Clarke’s Breakdown of the Swansea game, and he left the field having completed 100% of his passes – which is really something.

There are those who say he’s too conservative, but when you’re a side who seem to get ruthlessly punished every time we give the ball away, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Let him keep it and give to the players who can be a bit more expansive. The other option is to use Ainsley Maitland-Niles in there, and Wenger has said in the past that he sees the 20 year old’s future in the centre of midfield. Is he too inexperienced? I don’t think that’s the issue really. He considers him good enough to play out of position in the Premier League, so why not where he’s naturally suited?

For all the excitement of our new attacking options, we need to be able to provide those guys with the kind of platform from which they can flourish and do their stuff. We’re at a point now where it’s foolish to expect things to just to fall into place with some of the players who haven’t been able to do it before now. We have to at least try and do something different to address the very obvious issues we have in that area of the pitch. Elneny + Wilshere + Ramsey, perhaps?

The other question people have been asking, and it’s one we dealt with on the Arsecast Extra yesterday, is what happens to Alexandre Lacazette in the wake of the Aubameyang arrival? Can Arsenal fit all four of them on the pitch at the same time? We’ll obviously have to wait and see, but my initial feeling is that the Frenchman will have to spend time on the bench for the Premier League.

He looks laboured at the moment, low on confidence, and perhaps not quite the player we thought we were getting. Still, it’s just 6 months in, and I also think it’s fair to say that he hasn’t been provided with the kind of service he requires to be really effective. It’s why Arsene Wenger has to pay close attention to how he uses the new signing too, because he too needs to be fed to get the goals.

What’s interesting about the Lacazette situation is that he’ll be the main man for Europe because of the ridiculous rule that means Aubameyang is cup tied. It gives him a chance to remind the manager of what he’s about, and I don’t think he should consider it a demotion of any kind. The Europa League is hugely important for us this season. Not simply does it provide us with a chance of silverware – and Arsenal don’t have many European trophies in the cabinet – it’s a way into next season’s Champions League, so this is not a poor relation in any way. Particularly when you look at position in the league and how hard it’s going to be to crack the top four.

Hopefully it’s a challenge he’ll rise to, and ultimately there’s a lot of football to play, we’re going to need as much attacking power as possible, and he can give us some of that. Where we go in the summer remains to be seen, but for the rest of this campaign I don’t think there’s any problem.

Finally, the Mesut Ozil deal was officially announced yesterday. It’s such good news, and so, so important that we kept him. There’s a bit more detail on that in yesterday’s blog, but it’s fantastic news.

Right, we’ll have all the press conference coverage over on Arseblog News this morning. For now I’ll leave you with a brand new podcast in which I chat to David Ornstein of BBC Sport about everything that went on in the January window, and more. Thanks for listening and subscribing, and if you fancy giving us a 5 star rating or a review on iTunes, that would be very much appreciated.


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