If you are regular readers of my blog you probably know 2 things for certain about me by now. One is that I am an eternal optimist and the other is that I believe in real scouting for the right players to fit OUR system. This does not necessarily mean buying the biggest priced young talent looking for a big money move to the Premiership.
Before I move on to the major element of this blog I would just like to use 2 major examples to demonstrate real homework being done by a club as against rash splashing of new found wealth. Let us consider two major cities and 2 huge clubs, Liverpool and Newcastle, and 3 major signings by each. Liverpool brought in 2 major high profile midfielders and one striker, Henderson, Downing and Carroll for a combined total of £80 million. Newcastle also signed 2 midfielders and a striker in Tiote, Cabaye and Ba, for a combined total of £8 million. I will not bore you with the comparative statistics as you all tweet them for amusement, but it is often the same supporters who laugh at the Liverpool failures that advocate a similar policy for Arsenal.
For me the decisions to be made by Wenger in June as he has promised us early activity will be dependent on a few key factors that he will only be able to consider between now and the end of the campaign. He has made a decision on Lucas Podolski and that would appear to be concluded business but other decisions are not so straight forward. Wenger has had all season to consider is attacking formation and in reality, with the exception of the African Cup a Nations his first choice front 3 of Theo, Gervinho and RVP have remained fit. In my mind Wenger has concluded 2 things. One is that he needs players flexible enough to play in the favoured 4,2,3,1 or in a 4,4,2 and as a result he has reached the conclusion, albeit a difficult one that Gervinho, unlike Walcott might not quite be genuine top class, hence the investment in the German, who performs regularly in a wide attacking role for his country but is equally relaxed and effective in a 2. For the record I personally would love to see the Ivorian come good and there were glimpses on Saturday against Villa and evidence in the programme notes that he too knows he needs to find a new gear.
However for me the other decisions and subsequent potential transfer dealings cannot be made yet by Wenger and the reason for this has been his inability to see how Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby might integrate in the present set up and crucially where position wise they will play. I would add a further serious complication which has to be clouding the boss’s thinking in a very positive way, and that is the sensational form of Alex Song.
So let me elaborate what I mean by looking at the potential in the midfield area. It is not as straight forward as 3 from 8, although that is headache enough for any manager. At present it is quite easy for Wenger because he has to select 3 from 4 and the form of Song, Arteta and Rosicky makes that easy, with Ramsey missing out. Next week we add Diaby to the melting pot and 3 weeks later Wilshere and arguably Coquelin.
So first we must look at Jack because whilst every Gooner will want him back in the team as soon as conceivable, but not every Gooner will agree in which position and who should miss out. Now we can discuss this in pubs, on blogs and on twitter but for Wenger this is a major dilemma as I believe this decision alone will be the main determining factor in influencing summer transfer activity big money or otherwise. So making this clear, it is not about whether in April and May and next season Jack will be first choice, but WHERE he will be first choice? This for me is what Wenger has to resolve first and foremost. Does he slot Wilshere in where he played last season as one of the 2 deeper midfielders, or does he play him where Fabregas dominated games last year and in previous seasons, where Ramsey and Rosicky are operating now? Of course this is also the position so many want occupied by a fantasy footballer.
For me if he decides to play Wilshere in the attacking midfield role and it works well investment in this area is unlikely. Knowing he has a resurgent Rosicky and also Diaby and Ramsey in reserve and investment on a Hazard or a Gotze seems unlikely or extravagant. Of course this is not even taking into account Oxlade-Chamberlain who Wenger has hinted he might see in that role.
However if Wenger decides that Wilshere lacks the pace or invention for the pivotal role, which I doubt, it presents differing dilemmas. We have to assume that if Wenger saw Arteta in the the CAM role he would have given it to him this season, so if Wilshere is given a deeper role one of Arteta or Song might lose out. Given the form of both, this would be a bold decision. With his recent excellence and his somewhat surprising creativity it is inconceivable to me that Alex Song will not play. He seems to have repressed his tendency for petulance and indiscipline and has matured into an all round midfielder. His performances of late have brought two major comparisons to mind for me. His around energy, combativeness and domination of the opposition remind me of the Michael Essien who arrived at Stamford Bridge, declaring himself the most complete midfielder in world football. We all scoffed but in the first 2 years he was simply immense for Chelsea. The second comparison will sit more comfortably with you all as it his ability to float a lofted pass, often with back spin behind the opposition back line, to find a team mate. This ability I last saw from Manu Petit between 1997 and 99. Some of you will know that even a few months back I had my doubts on Song but it was not the ability, more the rushes of blood causing inappropriate decisions. (The needless stamping at St James Park for example might have cost us the home points against Liverpool as Frimpong had to play.) Now I have no interest in signing M’Villa unless it is to play alongside Song, but I would see this as hugely harsh on Mikel Arteta, whose composure, experience, phenomenal ball retention has undoubtedly been the major factor in Song maturing.
The next factor to take into account which Wenger has not have the luxury of in 2011/12 until now is the enigma that is Abou Diaby. Before you all dismiss this as insignificant bear in mind how highly a fit Diaby is rated not only by Wenger but by the past and current national manger in France. If Diaby is fit he has usually been selected and in a hugely disappointing 2010 World Cup Finals for France, the Arsenal midfielder was one of probably only 2 or 3 to emerge with an enhanced reputation. In 2009/10 Diaby was a first choice player for Wenger featuring in 29 of our 38 league matches, weighing in with a respectable 6 goals and 3 assists, adding a further strike and 2 assists in Europe. What I would say is an indisputable fact is that if Diaby had been fit at the start of last season Wilshere would not have featured at the outset, or as often as he ultimately did. Even in a largely truncated campaign last term starting only 13 games he still scored 2 and turned provider on 3 occasions in the league. The reality is that Wenger has enormous faith in the tall, injury prone Frenchman and if fit he will certainly see him having a role to play next season. What is equally certain though is that role is not in one of the two deeper lying roles. Diaby despite his clumsy appearance is a very skillful technician, with fabulous close control and an eye for the unexpected. I would liken his deceptive effectiveness to that of Kanu. Rarely likely to be a starter week in week out but a game changer from the bench or a selection for certain tight matches such as European encounters. I pointed out on twitter that in their first six years at Arsenal RVP and Diaby have not dissimilar appearance and injury records. I asked if we should wait to see if Diaby comes good and all respondees bar one said yes.
So where does that leave us for the summer and next season? Well in my view Wilshere and Song will be the core of the midfield, but the third of the threesome, assuming our formation remains the same, is anyone’s guess. It will however be highly influenced by the return of Wilshere, and to a lesser degree Diaby. We all agree Jack will play but does Wenger see him as the Fabregas replacement now or will he utilize him in the role he occupied last year alongside Song. If Wenger has the faith in young Jack to give him the responsibility of the CAM role and he rises to the challenge, can we truly see Wenger investing heavily for that position? He obviously has renewed faith in Rosicky with good cause, has always had it in Diaby, believes in Ramsey and has Oxlade-Chamberlain who, for my money can be quite literally whatever he wants to be. In my view that leaves us with Wenger making one more major signing after Podolski and unless he does a total U turn on Diaby or Ramsey I cannot see this addition being in the midfield. In all this I have not mentioned Coquelin who I would love to see gain more game time stepping in for Song or Arteta next season.
A contentious subject I know and obviously keen to hear your views. For the record I think at present I would run with Song and Arteta just behind Jack and I hope we see that trio in April/May have a few games together.
Until next time and thanks for reading.
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