A selection head ache is always something good to have. And last nights victory over Galatasaray would have given Arsene Wenger just that.
For a long time, many a fan have been calling for Lukas Podolski to get a start. Arguably the best finisher at the club, the German did not get 121 caps by being an average footballer.
Last night would have reminded the quality in the German’s left foot. 2 cracking goals. The first a hammer of a shot, the second more cute and placed. He also hit the bar.
There will now be calls for him to start against Newcastle this weekend, and this is where the selection headache begins.
Podolski can not play as a long striker, he has always thrived playing to the left of a big man (Klose for Germany, Giroud for Arsenal), and this is where the problem is created, Alexis Sanchez is currently our current first choice on the left hand side.
This creates the selection headache. Do you put Podolski in, shifting Sanchez into the middle or to the right, where he is less effective, or do you say to Podolski “Well played last night, but you’re back on the bench.”
The problem Lukas Podolski has is his all round game is not as good as others. In and around the box, he is lethal, but he contributes little else. The stats from last night highlight the issues that have surrounded his entire Arsenal career:
Shots: 4 (1st of all Arsenal players)
Pass Accuracy: 90.6% (7th)
Crosses Attempted: 0
Dribbles: 1 (5th)
Through Balls Attempted: 0
Brilliant in the box, but for a wide player to not put in a cross and only attempt 1 dribble is not good enough. But then we have his 2 goals. And what 2 great goals they were. And this is where the selection head ache comes in.
The most likely option would be to put Podolski on the left and move Sanchez on the right, but this is not a long term solution.
Once Theo Walcott is back fit, he will return to the right hand side. Walcott, remember, has 5 goals in his last 8 games, and before his year out, had scored 21 goals in the 2012/13 season. Him on the right, Sanchez on the left has been what we have all been waiting for. So with Theo back, where does it leave Podolski? Back on the bench.
You also need to throw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the mix. He was arguably our best player last night, running the game from the centre of midfield. In Walcott’s absence, he has been playing wide right, and doing a decent job.
Were you to move Sanchez to the right to accommodate Podolski on the left, you would then have a selection head ache of what to do with Chamberlain?
Does he get dropped? Or do you move him into the middle? Or perhaps you play Sanchez in the number 10 role, with Chamberlain and Podolski either side of him. Gosh things are starting to get complicated.
And now let’s add Mesut Ozil into the mix. Whilst a 3 of Podolski Chamberlain Sanchez could work in the short term, it certainly doesn’t in the long term. Ozil will return, and be put straight back in to his number 10 position. So where does Oxlade-Chamberlain play then? And lets not forget Theo!!!
5 in to 3 does not go. 2 will have to miss out. That two will most likely be, despite their performances last night, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski.
Unless Wenger decides to play either Walcott or Sanchez upfront?
And to add to further selection problems, you then have Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. They are quickly becoming our answer to Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
Individually brilliant, but they can not play together.
Last night Ramsey played like a free man. Like the man of 2013/14. Able to get forward at will, knowing that the man behind him (Flamini) would not be bombing forward. Ramsey is at his best in the final third of the field, it is where he comes alive.
Jack Wilshere is also at his best in the final third. Whilst the England experiment of playing at the bottom of the diamond had been successful, it has to be remembered this has been against minnows of world football such as San Marino and Scotland.
I still wonder whether he has the defensive game, discipline and power to perform a defensive role against a top side.
Ramsey and Wilshere seem to restrict each other. They both enjoy the license to get forward. When they play together, it does not work.
Every top midfield duo needs an Alpha and a Beta. For Scholes, read Keane, for Vieira, Petit, for Pirlo, Gatusso, for Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, for Lampard, Makelele.
They need to know that when they drive forward, that their defensive partner is more disciplined and inclined to sit deep, sacrificing his own game at the expense of the other.
Ramsey and Wilshere, like Gerrard and Lampard, are both Alpha’s. They can not play together.
Obviously Wilshere is injured at the moment, and that kind of solves the problem. And is also the most likely solution to this selection head ache.
Both men have missed so much football over the last 5 years, that you could easily accommodate them both knowing that the chances of them being fit at the same time is unlikely. It would also allow rotation, when one or the other gets into the dreaded ‘red zone’.
Of course, a lot of our selection problem’s could be solved by playing 4141:
Walcott Ramsey Ozil Podolski
But we started the season playing 4141, with Sanchez upfront, and it did not work. I am sure this was the plan Wenger had at the beginning of the season (with slightly different personnel – Ozil playing left, Wilshere Ramsey in the middle with Arteta behind). It did not work and resulted with too many players getting in each other’s way.
And the above team does not even include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain!
The problem again, comes from too many players wanting to play in the middle. Ramsey and Wilshere like pushing up, Sanchez and Chamberlain drop inside too much and Ozil then gets crowded out by his team mates. It is why Walcott is so important, as he will get chalk on his boots.
There are 2 players I have also yet to consider. Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky.
Starting with the later, for me Tomas Rosicky’s Arsenal career is over. This is a guy who I was so excited about when we signed him in 2006. I felt at the time that he was the 2nd best attacking midfielder in the world after Kaka. But injuries have hampered him.
I feel his time at Arsenal is slowly coming to an end. He no longer has the legs to play on the wing, so the only place he could fit in is behind the striker. But here he is behind Ozil, Cazorla, Sanchez, Chamberlain, Wilsheres & Ramsey. There is just no longer space for him.
As for Cazorla, he is another who time is running out for. You take out the FA Cup Final goal, he has been pretty poor for the last two seasons.
Ozil is head and shoulders ahead of him (literally) and if he is out, there is so much competition.
Personally, after last nights performance, I would like to see Oxlade-Chamberlain get a run out in centre midfield (I felt against Stoke he should have started there, with Welbeck and Sanchez out wide). He is more dynamic than Cazorla and deserves the chance. In the short term, this would obviously then allow us to play Sanchez and Podolski out wide (headache clearing!). With everyone fit, Cazorla is our 3rd choice number 10. And again, that does not take into account Wilshere or Ramsey playing there.
Alongside Rosicky, it would not surprise me if Cazorla was shown the door this summer.
One person who did not give Wenger a selection headache yesterday was Joel Campbell.
Yes, you should not judge on one game, but the lad had never impressed me, bar a single goal against Manchester United and one good performance in the World Cup. He runs with his head down too much and just does not influence the game enough.
Compare him last night to Oxlade-Chamberlain. One looked class. The other looked like a kid getting his chance. Were Campbell 18/19, I would think stick with him. But he is not. He is 22, a year older than Oxlade Chamberlain. And the gulf in class between them is huge.
On the right, Campbell has to compete with Walcott, Chamberlain and Sanchez.
Then add in Serge Gnabry, who is 3 years Campbell’s junior. In his 9 appearances last season for Arsenal (when still just 18), he showed more than Campbell has in his career. Campbell, remember, is now 22.
Campbell is behind Walcott, Chamberlain, Sanchez and Gnabry for the right sided berth. And last night he did not show any inclination that he would be challenging them any time soon.
So there are a lot of headache’s for Wenger coming up. Currently, a few of these are solved due to injury. Walcott, Wilshere and Ozil being out gives the chance to Chamberlain, Ramsey and Podolski. But when they are fit, who plays?
My perfect team be?
Debuchy Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Walcott Ozil Sanchez
What would yours – and try not to give yourself a headache thinking about it.