This wasn’t the post that I thought I’d be writing. The game in Marseille was hardly fifteen minutes in when I started getting a bad feeling. I feared the worst. The French side couldn’t quite find the back of the net. Our side couldn’t quite find a yellow shirt with a simple pass. Or a Sperz fan in a shadow. And Sperz fans looooooooooove hanging out in shadows, ours in particular.
By halftime at the Stade Vélodrome not much had changed. We were about as toothless as a button-up coat (hint: zippers have teeth).
In the second half, our lads continued to demonstrate some of the fatigue you’d expect from such a thin squad and such a heavy fixture list. There was to be no respite from the bench either, it was about as uninspiring as I can remember (it featured a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old). The only option was to kick on and grind out a result. Luckily, that seems to be our “thing” as of late.
At the sound of the final whistle, the performances of a few key, in-form players were enough to win us three points. Gibbo cleared a ball off the goal-line and if he hadn’t, SZCZ certainly would have needed another cigarette, and some doom would have oozed out of our barely healed scars. Gibbo also had a cracking attempt on goal after an Öz11 back-heel and he put in one hell of a performance swashbuckling down the left side of the pitch overall. Super Jackie Wilshere also played well, but it was the man in the team who he’s always compared to that was Man of the Match in my books. Aaron Ramsey can hardly put a foot wrong at the moment (that was not a penalty, so be quiet). He has 6 goals in 7 appearances. He tackles more than the stout DM that I was crying for would have. He is all over the bloody pitch. In sum, he’s in such tremendous form that if it wasn’t for the Özil signing (and my rosy belief that the club is going to keep spending on this team), I’d want him to put in some quiet performances so that we can hold on to him in the transfer window.
So it’s three points, and it’s thinking that pint tasted like another. It’s not hyperbolic to say that these three points are massive. It’s all well and good to highlight Marseille as the weakest team in the group, but you still need to go out there and beat them. The game is not played on paper and all that. Three wins out of our remaining five group games should see us through. It’ll be a scrap, but we look to be growing into a scrappy outfit. All’s good in Goonerdom.
Now for the second half of this post, rather than relying on mostly-faded memories of Sunderland, I thought I’d focus on the squad overall. If you’re aggrieved, the Sunderland match only confirmed a few things that everyone already knows. First, Mesut Özil is one of the few players in the world that feels like a steal at £42.5 million. Second, Sunderland are, in fact, still quite bad. Third, referees make mistakes, and from time to time those mistakes just work in Arsenal’s favour.
Where was I? Ah yes, the squad. First things first, let’s address the question: What is Arsenal’s best eleven?
I started formulating, and this was my best guess: SZCZ (GK), Gibbo (LB), Per (CB), Kos (CB), Sagna (RB), Arteta (CM), Ramsey (CM), Özil (CAM), Cazorla (LW), Theo (RW), Giroud (ST).
But I have to wipe my drool away because my best guess is all wrong. It’s a simple question and it’ a simple answer: Arsenal’s best eleven is the eleven players that somewhat fit into our formation that are in the best form.
This isn’t FIFA on your PlayStation. Players are capable of performing in numerous positions within our formation and our overall shape is subject to change. Our squad may be shallow, but one thing that is certainly in our favour is the versatility of a lot of our players. When the transfer window is closed and a certain position is ravaged by injury, we often look to the boss to come up with an “internal solution”. Ramsey at RB, Sagna at CB, Bendtner on the wing (OK, maybe we should forget about that last one). Internal solutions often appear shocking at first, and this just goes to show that there’s a tendency to pair a player with a specific spot on the pitch.
Let’s look at our attack, where, with a few more bodies back from injury there will be quite a few options. We typically want at least one direct winger like Theo, Ox, or Poldi, playing to keep our game from getting too Tiki-Taka. Our current eleven uses Theo as the direct winger and an interchange of “ball-players” between the CAM and the LW. The usual suspects here are Rosicky, Özil, Wilshere, Cazorla, even Ramsey. But there’s nothing stopping us from flipping the system when Walcott enters whatever the opposite of a purple patch is. A brown patch? I certainly would be just as excited to see Poldi on the left, with Özil and Santi fluidly switching in the centre and on the right. These sorts of opportunities are present throughout the formation. Rather than a wholesale swap when we get some of our big-names back, we must play the players who are in form and tweak our shape accordingly.
Now, back to the dream eleven. Injuries do exist, and as much as we want to speculate and make pretty graphics online, who knows if those players will all be fit and in form at the same time? The question that seems to be on eve
ryone’s mind right now is “who loses their starting spot once Cazorla is fit?” My answer is: no one, for now. His inclusion would likely coincide with the dropping of Wilshere, Ramsey, or Özil, and I’m not ‘avin that. Santi will start when someone’s form drops off or when someone is not fit to play. We are playing good football and getting the results we want. No injured player, no matter the stature should walk back into a winning starting eleven. End of.
Players get paid, even if they’re not played. The happiness or unhappiness of some our talented players who might find themselves sidelined should never be prioritized over the pursuit of results. Having depth is about healthy competition and options. The starting eleven might be different from month to month, or from game to game, but it does not matter. If players get to force moves to other teams with the excuse that they want to win trophies, they must also be willing to “ride the pine” for this team if it’s what will bring Arsenal trophies. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jack Wilshere, Mesut Özil, or our skipper Thomas Vermaelen (clearly).
The second half of this post wasn’t meant to sound so prescriptive, my apologies. Things are good. Gunners guna’ gripe.