Depending on your standpoint, Arsenal’s disappointing performance and inability to overcome an understrength Hull side was ‘just one of those days’, or something altogether more concerning. From my perspective you have to be grateful still to be in the draw, but the Gunners’ inability to convert chances is a definite cause of concern. Denying so would be foolhardy and thankfully whatever overly positive fans may think, Wenger himself has acknowledged it.
Bizarrely for a team seemingly unable to score goals, Wenger is also on record as recently as the last transfer window claiming his squad boast four world class strikers. The truth is that all four of the aforementioned were on display against Hull and none of them dazzled. Perhaps more oddly, the one who looked the biggest threat when he picked up the ball was the one with the least football this season. Danny Welbeck, with a little over 90 minutes’ game time this season, looked the one Arsenal striker that might have made things happen.
The former Manchester United man was last season often criticised for the number of goals he scores, as he was by United fans before he came to the Emirates. Having said that, he only played through the middle consistently for the few months Giroud was injured and in that time he scored six for the club, including a memorable three-goal haul in the Champions League and another five for England, including two braces. The truth is we actually don’t know how capable he is as a striker full-time yet. What was obvious in the few minutes against Leicester and almost a full game this past weekend is that he is fit, fresh, fast, sharp and full of running. He also looks to have bulked up like Walcott and Ozil before him, and is carrying that new upper body muscle well.
Whether Danny is the long-term answer remains to be seen but right here and right now, I for one want him on the pitch on Tuesday against Barcelona. I am a confirmed Giroud fan but the Frenchman is looking a tad tired for me and whilst I marvelled at the deftness of his assist last week against the Foxes, it should not be forgotten that he also headed over on four occasions. Welbeck’s hold-up play is efficient and what he can give us that Olly cannot is the pace to play in behind the Barca backline. We may not get many opportunities on Tuesday, but the fact that our Spanish opposition do play the high line should suggest we play with our pace.
The counter-argument is that Barca are also not great from set pieces, but Welbeck is also good in the air as his towering headed winner demonstrated. I feel what Welbeck offers playing on the shoulder gives him the edge and we all remember with a smile on our faces the speed and reaction from him last season to score the winner at Old Trafford.
In addition, whilst Alexis is not playing well and is largely a frustrated figure at present, there are the lingering doubts about the compatibility of the Chilean and Giroud. Some of his best games last season came when he played to the left of Welbeck, and I believe Wenger needs to have a good look at this combination with Sanchez bound to be fired up to perform well against his old team.
If this is the preferred option, I sense Wenger would wish a more defensive player on the right playing the position as Ramsey did at the end of last season and the beginning of this. Coquelin will undoubtedly start and I would like to see him alongside Elmeny, with Ramsey back out there tucking in to support. If however he opts for the Coquelin/Ramsey partnership, the role is a straight choice between Ox and Joel. Given his decision to rest Ox on Saturday it will probably be the Englishman who gets the nod. Walcott simply cannot play the role as Wenger wants it in games like this, and his impact may well be from the bench as required.