Based on the comments left on the match analysis after the last game, I’m guessing many gooners were unhappy with the choice of Nasri on the left. They’d have preferred Arshavin. Based on the Russian’s cameo in the final half hour and the Frenchman’s hard working yet uninspiring initial display, obviously with the benefit of hindsight, this seems like a valid point.
I’m not completely convinced by that argument as I feel Arshavin and Walcott on the wings would have left us exposed defensively. Nonetheless, it presents an excellent topic for discussion as Wenger will have to make some tricky choices because right now we have 4 players – Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri, and Rosicky – all in good form, competing for two spots. And I’m not even considering the likes of Vela, Eboue, and JET. No disrespect to them but when the big guns are available they will always be on the fringes.
Among those four, Arshavin, when he plays, will probably be on the left. Similarly, Walcott will be on the right. I don’t see either of them being that effective on the other flank.
Yes there is an argument that Arshavin could play centrally, but we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons that Wenger doesn’t like that and I’d like to believe he’s given that some thought and discarded the option for valid reasons.
I’m sure we’d all like to see Walcott on the left/centre emulating the feats of Henry but I can’t see that happening right now. Maybe in a couple of years after Theo learns to control the ball better.
So for now I’ll go forward with the assumption that Arshavin and Walcott will play on the left and right respectively. Rosicky and Nasri, as we’ve seen time and again, are far more flexible and can do a job anywhere in midfield.
So the possibilities are – Arshavin with any one of the three on the right, Walcott with any one of the three on the left, or with Rosicky and Nasri on either flank.
The Russian and the Englishman make an explosive combination. As I said above, I feel it’d leave us defensively weak on both flanks, but I will acknowledge this pair was brilliant against Blackpool and pretty good against Blackburn. Should we take more of a gamble on them, especially in home games? Will it add the pace, directness, and urgency that we need to break teams down early on?
Then there is the choice of picking either Arshavin or Walcott. Obviously form and fitness will be an issue but considering that right now both are in equally good shape, Arsene will have a tough choice to make.
Against Newcastle Wenger went with Theo (perhaps Arshavin had still not recovered completely from the virus) but it didn’t work out. Enrique and Gutierrez did an excellent job of denying him any space.
On the other flank Nasri wasn’t able to create much either. Would Rosicky have done better? Based on what I’ve seen Arsene picks Nasri whenever the Frenchman is fit and doesn’t need a rest. This frequently leads to changes in his position.
Clearly, Wenger thinks this is not a problem and I don’t have hard evidence to argue against that but I’d certainly prefer if Nasri was given one wing and time to adapt in that position. By that logic I’d always play Nasri on the right and Rosicky on the left. One of them might have to come central when Cesc is missing or rested but that’s a different issue.
Effectively, it would be Arshaivn/Rosicky with Walcott/Nasri leading to four different combinations.
The final choice would depend on the opposition, venue, and tactics.
For instance, at home we could go with a somewhat riskier but far more attacking 23-14 combination. In the bigger games we could have the more technical and defensively stronger 7-8 pairing.
Tactical decisions could also make a difference. For example, Newcastle were clearly much stronger on their left than they were on their right, both defensively and offensively. In such a case it would be better to have a technical, hard working player like Nasri on our right with Arshavin exploiting their relatively weaker flank where he’d get more space.
In contrast, there could be other teams like Bolton or Blackburn who have a weak left back. Walcott could terrorize them all day long. We could pick Arshavin or Rosicky on the other side depending on the venue.
Then there are games like the upcoming visit to Molineux where it’s hard to say whether the hosts will be stronger on the right or the left. One could say that Jarvis provides a strong threat down the left but dealing with him will be down to Sagna and I’m confident the Frenchman will deal with the threat. The choice of the attackers would depend on the quality of the fullbacks but in the case of Wolves it’s difficult to say one is really better than the other. In such cases the best option would be to rotate so that we have a fresher/sharper attacking player in the starting line-up.
Walcott has played twice in the last week so it would be best to give him a breather and have him on the bench as an impact sub. Arshavin should start on the left and based on my reasoning mentioned above Nasri should start on the right. Of course, there is always the injury angle and that could keep the Frenchman out. In that case Wenger might have to pick Theo for his third game in a week or shift Rosicky to the right.
I just read everything I’ve said so far and realized these are far more complicated decisions than I’d initially realized. There are just too many factors involved but these choices are critical to the shape and balance of the team. As we saw against Newcastle, once they closed our attacking options on the right we looked bereft of ideas and lacked creativity.
By now you must have picked up the fact that I don’t have a definitive opinion on this issue. It can be argued in many ways and it’s really difficult to say one choice is better than the other without the benefit of hindsight.
Of course, Arsene is paid big money to make such decisions so he doesn’t have an excuse for getting it wrong but it does give us plenty to talk about. Can you make a case for the choices on the flanks?