The news that is shaking the face of the earth at the moment is Robin van Persie leaving to Arsenal's rival Manchester United. Some people call him a traitor, others justify his move, and there are articles everywhere saying it's either a huge disaster for Arsene Wenger's side or that it's a brilliant piece of business by the Arsenal boss.
Whatever it is, the bottom line is that the Gunners captain is now the former Gunners captain. The PFA and FWA Player of the Year, as well as the 2011/2012 Premier League Golden Boot winner, will no longer be sporting "Fly Emirates" on the front of his jersey next season.
With this piece of news, the million-dollar-question, which is rather obvious, is how the Gunners will line up and play up front in light of their striker's absence? With new signings Podolski, Giroud, and Cazorla, they are left with several ways to organize the midfield and attack to supposedly challenge for the title.
Let's break down the roles of each midfielder and forward starting with the ideal starting formation: a 4-1-2-3. With Szczesny in goal, the only defensive position in doubt is right back, where Sagna will play when fit, but for the moment, Arsenal are left with Jenkinson, Djourou, and Coquelin (I think it should be Coquelin).
At the moment, Steve Bould will be working with the back four, and as a former Arsenal center back, the new assistant manager most likely knows exactly what he's doing. The first goal against Cologne (or Koln)—where Mertesacker flicked the corner on to Vermaelen with his head and Vermaelen finished it—is supposedly a product of Bould's advice, according to some people.
But anyway, let's move up from the defense.
The defensive midfielder should be Alex Song (let's just assume that Song remains at the Emirates for this article). As Song has developed his long ball ability and is a great defender, he should be hanging back deep, which may not be exactly what he did last season. Despite hanging back, he may well be able to find Giroud in the air or release a winger into space.
The two advanced midfielders, Lukas Podolski and Mikel Arteta, would both be playing fairly centrally, though Podolski should have the freedom to roam on the wing, since he is comfortable there too. Yes, Podolski played wide for the Germans at the Euro Cup, but he didn't play very well. As a player who can dictate play well and is fast but not lightning like Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott, Podi's default should be central, while maintaining the freedom to go wide.
Arteta, meanwhile, should control the central midfield with patience, vision, and calm, spreading the ball wide and maybe looking to thread the needle up front to Giroud, or find Cazorla, Walcott, or Oxlade-Chamberlain on the back side of a fullback. Arteta should look to shoot a bit too, since he scored a couple of long distance goals last season, notably the late winner against Manchester City.
Those three, forming a triangle in the midfield, should be able to dictate in really different ways, leaving their respective marks on the attack using their skill sets. Song will be able to play balls in the air, Arteta will be sending the ball in all directions, and Podolski's role will be similar to Arteta's, yet he may look for more incisive passes when he touches the ball.
The two wingers should be Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott (another player who we will hope is still a Gunner next season). A lot of Arsenal fans have recently been saying that Walcott should be replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but here's why the elder one of the two should have a place in the starting XI.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is only 19 years old, but this has nothing to do with any maturity or lack of experience aspect that is almost always present in a teenage footballer. The reason that Oxlade-Chamberlain should be coming off the bench is that as someone who is so young, too much playing is bad for his body.
At Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas picked up several minor injuries that kept him out for a certain amount of time, and not all of them were caused by actual incidents. At Arsenal, Fabregas said that often players were forced to play too much too young, and this made them pick up injuries in the long run. Even Jack Wilshere's current injury can't really have been helped by the fact that he played several first team games as a teenager at the Emirates.
It's for this reason that Oxlade-Chamberlain should not be overplayed. Instead he should be an impact second-half substitute, alongside Gervinho. Gervinho would also bring an injection of pace when everyone else, including defenders, would have tired legs.
One thing that Arsenal may need out of Walcott is more going forward in terms of off-ball runs. Walcott did lots of checking back to the ball last season on his right wing, but the main problem is he isn't very good at going both ways, so beating defenders one-on-one with the ball is a problem for him.
That's why he should try to get in behind the defenders before he gets the ball, instead of trying to make it happen with the ball at his feet. His exceptional pace (Yahoo Eurosport reported that he can run 100 meters in 10.30 seconds) makes him able to be released into space very well—occasionally by Vermaelen's long ball—and he's more effective when he sprints forward without the ball and plays it in after receiving it.
Cazorla, on the other hand, has the whole package. Shooting, dribbling, passing, he can do it all very well. There have been talks of playing the Spaniard in the middle, but it would be better to exploit his pace out wide, because from there, he could cut in well. As mentioned above, Podolski can sometimes drift out wide, and then maybe Cazorla could switch into the middle with him.
Something that was happening well on the wings this past year was the overlap by either the fullback or the winger. On both flanks, whichever one of the two had the ball, the other one would do a good job of making an overlapping run for a cross. And this year, crossing will hopefully be more effective with another new signing Olivier Giroud playing striker.
Giroud will undoubtedly be asked by Wenger to play many roles at different times.
Very often, he will be playing with his back to goal just outside the 18-yard box, checking back to the ball in order to help the passing game in the final third. At other times, he will be combining with the wingers and then running into the box in order to get onto the receiving end of a cross.
Another possible role for Giroud would be that of the target man. It's unlikely that there will be many long balls for the Frenchman to hold up, but on counter attacks, he may keep the ball, waiting for the likes of Walcott and Cazorla to arrive with their speed.
But Giroud also has a cannon of a left. He will almost always be the Arsenal player furthest up, but if he is playing really deep, don't be surprised if you see him pulling the trigger from long distance. As a clinical finisher, the midfielders Podolski, Arteta, and Song will look to play him through and get him one-on-one opportunities against the keeper.
One thing Wenger did a great job of doing with these signings is making sure that they fit the kind of football that Arsenal play. While someone like Andrei Arshavin may not have blended in with the Arsenal style, Cazorla, Podolski, and Giroud are all accustomed to playing in quick-passing systems with Spain, Germany, and Montpellier, respectively.
So, overall, I think that a passing system will really be great for Arsenal this year. Some fans say that Wenger will challenge Mancini and Ferguson for the title, but I think that is going a bit far. I think they will race Chelsea and Tottenham for third place, and end up finishing fourth.
What do you think? Please leave your comments and feedback.
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