Team selection is a topic always in discussion. Whether you are a fan of Barnet or Barcelona, you will have a rigid, unyielding belief on what the weekly team sheet should be, and frankly, anyone who disagrees clearly knows nothing about this sport (right?).
Last season saw constant discussion among Arsenal fans far and wide on team selection, and in particular, the back four. Whilst Koscielny and Bellerin were considered nailed-on starters by most, the two remaining positions acted as platforms for intense discussion and debate; Gibbs or Monreal at left-back? Gabriel or Mertersacker at Center-back? Why isn’t Calum Chambers playing? Questions such as this persisted until the season’s end, before, in the summer transfer window, these issues were addressed by Wenger. The acquisitions of Mustafi and Holding, the loan of Chambers and the recall of Carl Jenkinson have bought a new-found stability and consistency among the defense, a feature that sorely lacked throughout the previous campaign.
Three months into the new season however and the focus of team sheet discussion has switched polarity to the attacking-third of the pitch. With Giroud out injured, Alexis Sanchez has started and excelled in a center-forward role this season, whilst the emergence of Iwobi and capture of Lucas Perez ensure the wide positions remain inconsistent. This has created an unreliable nature to a front line that, last season, was the saving-grace of this team. So the question is, out of the four positions available, who should play?
Although the players within it remain interchangeable, the formation of the Gunners’ front four remains a constant:
Winger Central-Attacking-Midfield Winger
These four positions are sought after by a total of eight players, which, unless my maths is wrong (very probable/likely/borderline-certain), does not fit. Therefore, Wenger faces a major selection headache going into each and every fixture, as he tries to keep players in form in the starting XI, whilst also trying not to disturb the balance of those on the pitch by constant chopping and changing. Below, a summary of each player and their argument for being in the team can be found, as the competition for these places reaches boiling point.
Mesut Ozil – One of only two guaranteed starters in this ever-increasing list of names. Carried the team at points last season, and has found his scoring boots this term. 7 Goals and 3 assists so far this campaign speaks for itself, including the goal of the season against Ludogorets (take your pick of which one).
Sanchez – The other guaranteed starter. If he loses the striker position to Giroud, he will resume his position in a wide area. Another of world-class quality (along with Ozil), his pace adds a different dimension to the front line as his pace allows a high, tight press which has proven very effective thus far.
Giroud – During his time at Arsenal, few players in the squad have divided opinion more than this man. Comments in crowds and online range from ‘Worse than Bendtner’ to ‘Better than Harry Kane’. Top goalscorer last season, it is obvious he needs more respect from some, but he often looks a level below the likes of Ozil on the big stage, and Wenger’s failed pursuit of Jamie Vardy this summer may signal a change of tactics that does not favor the Frenchman.
Walcott – If any player has divided opinion more than Giroud, it’s Theo. At the age of 27, regardless of what is said of his form this campaign, it is clear he has not lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he arrived in North London ten years ago. After the disaster that was last season, Walcott has been on fire thus far this term, with seven goals to his name. However, how many times have we said he has finally ‘realized his potential’ after a good string of games? His inconsistency is a worry, and a very real weakness.
The OX – Strikingly similar situation to Walcott. Arrived from Southampton, had an electric start, and has since faded. This is his highest scoring season, and he has only five goals, two of which came against Reading in the League Cup. Wenger has often said his confidence is holding him back, but it wouldn’t be the only factor, as end-product and consistency have always been an issue. At 23 years of age, there is nowhere to hide now for the OX, and with Iwobi, three years his junior, regularly keeping him from the starting eleven, major questions have to be asked.
Iwobi – The shock of last season. Thrust into the team in February during an injury crisis and due to the poor form of others, Iwobi established himself as a first-team regular in a matter of weeks. Goals in his first two premier league starts, two assists at West Ham and a start at the Nou Camp illustrate his undoubtedly ability, and signs of end product. However, without a single-goal this term, it may be wise for Wenger to remember he is only twenty years of age, and can be afforded a rest period out of the side to rediscover his composure and come back into the side fresh and with a goal-lust.
Perez – One of the more bizarre signings of the Arsene Wenger era. Endless talk of Lacazette and Icardi was replaced by confused whispers – ‘Who is Perez?’. Two goals against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup and a brace of assists against Ludogorets in the Champions League helped put a few of these whispers to bed, but he has struggled since. He is only slight in build and seems to struggle with the pace of English football, and injury has now ruled him out until Christmas. Hopefully, surely, the best is still yet to come from the Spaniard.
Welbeck – A supreme athlete and, on his day, a world-beater of a player. Danny Welbeck provides an alternative option to the front-line, combining electric pace and supreme strength. Undoubtedly should score more, but showed signs of an increasing composure in front of goal last season before injury. Will be a monumental boost to the team when he returns in the new year.
Before any conclusion is made, you first of all have to appreciate the new-found squad depth this attacking force of the team now has. The introductions of Perez and Iwobi, and the return of Welbeck ensure that injuries can be dealt with better than any season in recent memory. However, a conclusion does have to be made, and it can be found in this poorly spaced formation below:
Iwobi Ozil Welbeck
Although this front-four may raise some eyebrows, it is the one I believe gives this team the greatest threat going forward. Despite his recent dip in form, Iwobi’s silky style of play in which he finds the pockets between midfield and attack, and can drift to and from wide areas, ensures he fits better into this system than an out-and-out winger such as the OX or Theo. Furthermore, at the age of only twenty, the more he plays, the better he gets. Welbeck and Sanchez meanwhile provide serious pace, as well as strength, and most importantly, are very interchangeable; both offer threats in wide positions as well as upfront, and also have proven goal records, rather than unrealized potential such as the OX, and to an extent, Iwobi. The introduction of Welbeck over Giroud at the end of last season provided a fresh a dimension to the attack, as he could keep up with the rapid pace of the likes of Ozil and Sanchez, giving the Englishman the edge. Without a target-man in this system, the front-four can afford to push high up the pitch, play with more fluidity and press the opposition, posing a greater threat that the sometimes static system in which Giroud spearheads.
Coming off the bench however, Giroud offers a fantastic alternative in a game in which we are struggling to break down a side. The same can be said for the OX, Theo, Perez and even up and coming prospects such as Chuba Akpom, ensuring the probabilities of this front-four are almost endless.
But hey, what do I know, Theo will probably get a hat-rick at Old Trafford this Sunday and Ozil will score an own-goal, we’ll soon find out.