Arsenal’s midfield dilemma: ‘Who starts who doesn’t’


Premier League clubs usually have bigger squads than Spanish Clubs, which however does not imply that they are better teams. Chelsea won the league last year with one of the smaller squads in England’s top flight. When it comes to strength in depth, Arsenal too have a big squad, and a big ‘playable’ squad at that, meaning that at this point Wenger neither has deadwood the way he did just 2 seasons back in the likes of Squillaci, Park, Chamakh etc.

However, he has about the same number of players in this current squad, with about 11 midfielders, 9 of whom are fighting for a place in the team, not to forget the other 2, Krystian Bielik and Gedion Zelalem, who due their young age and competitive readiness, have not featured as much. Up front, he has about 4 senior strikers and a young Serge Gnabry who had previously featured on a few occasions in the 2013-14 season making a memorable impact. At the back, 5 Centre Backs, (i.e including Isaac Hayden) 2 left backs and 2 right backs. At the post, Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina have had a healthy competition. With the much awaited arrival of Petr Cech, the Colombian international may be sold.

In brief, it is clear enough that Arsene Wenger will be in a fix trying to figure out who he must start and against which team, a luxury he has only recently savoured. With a fully fit squad, Wenger has a dozen full time international players on the bench. Of all the departments, it is in midfield that Wenger will have to make some very difficult decisions, and with the rumours circling that he would like to bring in one more midfielder, this will only get more difficult, if not worse.  So what will Wenger do to ensure that all his players get playing time? I for one see him doing the following:

Rotation on the basis of tournament: Wenger  does not rotate his squad too often in the premier league. Based on current form, the central midfield partnership of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin has yielded the best results. If the pre-season and training’s next season does not change Wenger’s mind, I don’t see this partnership being disrupted, at least in the league, unless either of them gets injured . This implies that of the other players competing with the duo, especially Cazorla, many may get more playing time in a different tournament, for Wenger has changed squad sheets more on the basis of the tournaments themselves. Here, the likes of Rosicky, Flamini and Arteta may see game time, while young midfielders Gedion Zelalem and Krystian Bielik may feature in some capacity in at least one tournament: most likely the Capital One Cup.

The inclusion of Wilshere: In the line up that started the FA cup final against Aston Villa, it is difficult to assess who Wenger would like to replace with Jack Wilshere, whose form for the England national team will hopefully continue into the Premier League. I stress this because fans across the globe would agree that next season could be a crucial year for the Englishman, who will be willing to burst out onto the pitch having missed out quite a bit of last season. To find the right balance between developing his game and ensuring that the team wins games, especially the big ones, will be one of Wenger’s immediate projects. He is central to Wenger’s project at Arsenal. For the world to see what he is truly capable of and for Wenger to be able to make his contributions useful to the team,  there is little doubt that starting Wilshere in as many games as possible will be at the back of Wenger’s head. Coming back to the earlier question, who will he, then ,replace? In all honesty, I have no clue, and I’d like to leave it at that.

Clear out? : For the fact that it has not been the news yet, I can only guess that there may not be a clear out of midfielders this summer. Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta were two names linked with the same. I don’t see Arteta leaving next season, as he is on the brink of signing a new contract. Flamini on the other hand, could and should be sold for his own well being and for the club, this has been my honest feeling ever since he began losing his duels and allowing the opposition to invade the defensive midfield area into the 18 yard box. Only if either of these two senior players leave, will there be room for another holding player. If either do not leave, and if Wenger brings in another defensive midfielder then at least one will spend ample time on the bench.

The midfield dilemma for Wenger at Arsenal is quite complex for a regular fan to completely understand or imagine. I have very little to say on how Wenger can address this. Nevertheless, I definitely see the above mentioned things happening next season.

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