Whilst debates about starting XI’s will always rage among supporters I guess they should be less relevant in the Premier League era.
With 25 or more to select from, a manager today is spoilt being able to have 11 on the pitch and seven replacements. It is a far cry from the time, not so long ago, when a squad was about 17 pros and each week only 12 could participate.
Wenger however is not a huge squad rotator, he never has been and he frequently perseveres with a winning formula until injury or suspensions force his hand. As discussed previously it is in injury adversity that new solutions and options present themselves. Wenger had played Aaron Ramsey on the right previously but in February/March the fit again Welshman was having to make do with a place on the bench whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was enjoying a good run on the right and a rich vein of form. When the unfortunate England star was injured, I think most would have expected Walcott to resume in the role that he had played most of his football, but Wenger turned to Ramsey.
From March to May, Ramsey occupied that right-hand side with some success including the Wembley triumph of course. However in August, Arsenal find themselves with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey both fighting fit, both seemingly in form and each has been presented with one opportunity on the right flank. Understandably the selection by Wenger is one of the most talked about subjects by the Arsenal supporters. Perhaps more because, barring the possible Giroud/Walcott decision, it is arguably the only actual decision that might cause Wenger some loss of sleep.
Ramsey became something of a talisman in the way he recovered from adversity and being the subject of some terrace barracking to have such a stellar season in 2013/14. He topped this off with a thrilling extra-time winner in the FA Cup and as Charlie George will tell you it does not get much better than that. That said, he does still upset some fans with his occasional unnecessary flicks, ambitious passes and poor ball retention. This is why, at present, the Coquelin and Cazorla midfield partnership is preferred. Where Ramsey does excel is with the timing of his runs and his eye for goal which might seem better served in a more advanced role centrally, but here he finds a certain Mesut Ozil.
I wrote a piece earlier this week on my own site suggesting that Ramsey might look into Arsenal’s recent past for inspiration for his current role. A certain Freddie Ljungberg might have preferred a central role but he found himself invaluable to Wenger in wider areas. The Swede, like Ramsey, had stamina in abundance allowing him to roam when the team were attacking and make those threatening runs and score the goals, but still be able to get back to support his full-back when the moves broke down. If Ramsey embraces this role with the freedom he himself revealed Wenger has allowed him, it could be hugely important for his own career, as it will make him a more rounded player and for his team in the here and now.
So where does that leave the star of Arsenal’s pre-season – ‘The Ox’? His attributes on the right are very different to that of the Welshman and this will give Wenger pause for thought and may indeed prompt rotation. The England star is perhaps the only one that will run at a defender at pace with the ball to feet and attempt to beat him on the outside. This in turn allows him to get the ball into the box, whether by cross or cut-back. It gives Arsenal a different dimension, particularly as Sanchez offers less width, invariably cutting in from the left. The one major doubt over Chamberlain is that he can show ill-discipline or poor judgement in his own half but going forward he is a player that gets fans off their seats in anticipation.
It is a nice set of problems for a manager and it may be that he will select game to game as he has to date. Away from home where the onus may be on a team to attack us more, the Ramsey option appeals, drifting in off the flank to use the space between the lines afforded to him. Whereas at the Emirates, where teams frequently sit deep and are compact, the pace and width offered by Ox may seem preferable.
Last week at the end of an article on my site that set out the attributes of both right flank options in a balanced fashion, we asked the readers at the end who they felt should start on the right versus Liverpool and the results to my surprise were not at all close. 77% opted for the Ox and only 23% for Ramsey for this home fixture.
On balance they perhaps agree that the Ox should be given his head at the Emirates, but will Arsene Wenger agree?
Lastly can I take this opportunity as club’s representative on Shoot to send our prayers and best wishes at this time to the family and friends of Matthew Grimstone and Jacob Schilt, the two Worthing United players who lost their lives so tragically on Saturday in the Shoreham air disaster, on their way to play the game we all love.