In what is perhaps the most predictable piece of news this season, Francis Coquelin has been ruled out with injury until the New Year.
Over the summer, top of everyone’s wish list was a defensive midfielder. Whilst Coquelin has proved in the last 12 months that he perhaps is good enough to be our first choice, the worrying lack of competition / understudy / back up is what worried many.
An injury to Coquelin for any length of time would leave us in a situation relying on Mikel ‘Legs Gone’ Arteta and Mathieu ‘Energy Baron’ Flamini. Worrying.
If course, in the summer, many of the Arsene Wenger loyalists also pointed to Jack Wilshere & Aaron Ramsey as players who could perform there if needed. Whilst that would work as an option in the majority of games, it is an option which negated to remember that both of them are likely to miss big chunks of the season, which they have.
Add in the fact that when Arteta does find his legs, they tend to break down very quickly, it leaves us in a scenario where our options in the middle of the park are very limited.
So what are our options?
The only fully fit defensive senior midfielder in the squad would currently be in Turkey if it was up to the club.
Despite his goals against Spurs writing himself into Arsenal folklore, he is simply not good enough. Being Mesut Ozil’s best mate is should not be the basis of the club retaining your services.
But he is the most likely option.
What he lacks in ability, he makes up in work rate. Although this has declined over recent years, he can still cover a lot of ground. And with Santi Cazorla likely to play next to him, you need someone who can get about the pitch. Someone with legs. It is why Arteta and Cazorla would not work, but Ramsey and Arteta would, or Coquelin and Cazorla. You need players to compliment eachother. One to do the running, one to be the ball player (in an ideal world, you would have 2 who could do both, but those players are rare).
There was talk that Aaron Ramsey had an outside chance of being fit for WBA. He was not. The game against Zagreb might be 24 hours too early for the Welshman, but I would be very disappointed if he was not fully fit for next Sunday’s visit to Norwich.
Whilst he might not be a pure defensive midfielder, he can defend, he can tackle, he can read the game and he can cover ground.
A couple of seasons ago, when I nicknamed him the general, he was showing signed of turning into an all round midfielder in the Michael Ballack mould. Able to defend and attack.
Nothing has changed, he can still do that job. A central midfield of Ramsey and Cazorla should have the balance to be able to beat the likes of Norwich, Sunderland and Aston Villa. Whether it is good enough to beat Manchester City in December is another story.
And of course, this options requires Aaron Ramsey to get fit and stay fit. Easier said than done.
A genuine option. He is fully fit and ready to go. In the long term, his versatility might hold his development back, in the same way it has for Phil Jones. However, in the short term his versatility might benefit Arsenal.
Some believe his future could be in the middle of the park. He certainly has the defensive awareness to play there, and is good on the ball. In the same way as Ramsey, a midfield of Chambers and Cazorla should be good enough to beat Norwich, Sunderland and Villa, Chambers and Cazorla should be good enough as well.
Moving beyond those games, perhaps a Chambers / Ramsey combination for Manchester City could give us more defensive stability. But that would cause a potential issue.
Ideally you would like to give Chambers a run in the team before City in the middle of the park. With 5 games between now and then, he would certainly get that chance to be ready. But then Aaron Ramsey also needs games to get fit. So can you really accommodate the pair of them in preparation for Manchester City?
Maybe we will see a return of Ramsey playing on the right wing, with Chambers and Cazorla in the middle, before shifting Ramsey inside for City? Or perhaps give Cazorla the rest he needs and start Ramsey & Chambers together against Norwich to see how they get on?
It is certainly a flexible option.
There was a lot of excitement when we signed Krystian Bielik last January. This might have been because people honestly felt he had the makings of a top player, or just because he was our only signing. Bit like your mate who hasn’t had a shag for a year boasts about banging a minger.
12 months on and Bielik, still just 17, has yet to make any sort of break through.
He came out of the Sheffield Wednesday with some credit. A half hour cameo, he did not do much wrong. However at this point Wednesday were out of reach and had taken there foot off the pedal. There was not the pressure and pressing on Bielik that there would have been earlier in the game. So it is perhaps wrong to judge him on the Wednesday performance.
I doubt most of your reading this (or calling for him to start on Twitter) have seen anymore than him than that cameo in the League Cup. Whenever it comes to youth players, always check out Jeorge Bird’s excellent site for an honest opinion from someone who actually watch’s youth team games
Bielik might be an option in the future, but the fact he is not playing central midfield in the youth teams would show he is probably not yet ready to step up.
I kid, I kid. He is not an option.
Currently having to fill in on the left wing, Kieran Gibbs could also be an emergency midfielder if needed.
I remember as a youngster he played a couple of game’s for England Under 21s under Stuart Pearce and looked comfortable.
At the weekend he dropped inside a couple of times from the wing and looked comfortable. Whether the has the speed of thought and ability to play under extreme pressure to do it for the next 3 months would be up for debate.
Also we are short out wide. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is due to come back from injury, likely for Sunderland. But his return should be treated with caution. Like Ramsey, you feel the next injury is just round the corner.
And if he does get fit, surely his give us the opportunity to rest Alexis Sanchez. That would then leave Chamberlain on the right with Gibbs still on the left.
Whilst none of the above situations are ideal, we do have a few viable options. Flamini, Ramsey & Chambers being the most likely. You should be able to play any combination of those 3 with/and/or Cazorla and beat the likes of Norwich, Sunderland & Aston Villa.
You see other teams having to make do with much weaker players. West Ham playing 16 year old Reece Oxford against us as an example.
We seem to have an irrational fear every time a first team player is out injured. Whether it is a goal keeper, a defender of whatever. We maybe do not give the squad players the credit they deserve. WBA for example had their 2nd choice keeper playing yesterday. Their fan’s were not fearful. Yet we would all be worried if David Ospina, an international class keeper, had to come in for Petr Cech. It is irrational.
However, it has exposed the weakness in our squad that we all knew already existed. The “nobody better” brigade (NBB?) seemed to forget that it was not just better than Coquelin we should have been keeping an eye out for, but better than Flamini and Arteta. There were players out their, at a reasonable price, would could have provided that back up / competition for Coquelin.
The fact we do not have a competent specialist defensive midfielder to cover for Coquelin is an utter disgrace. And could cost us the title.