A 4-1 away win to Hull City, following an efficient but not very impressive display in Paris, should leave the majority of Arsenal supporters in buoyant mood. But given how difficult Arsenal have made each result look and the considerably dose of luck involved in both, there seems to be a murmur of discontent amongst the ranks. It would seem that contention lies in Arsene Wenger’s decision to continue to exult the virtues of Alexis Sanchez as the club’s main striker and refrain from starting the impressive left footed cannon of Granit Xhaka in midfield.
Whilst the goals of Sanchez have temporarily relieved Wenger of any uncomfortable centre forward questions, resentment surrounding Arsenal’s Swiss midfielder intensifies as fans cast longing glances at the inclusion of Gundongan, Pogba and Kante at three of their closest rivals. Additionally, the two long range efforts that have found the back of the net in both of Xhaka’s previous outings have caused fans to question Wenger’s decision to leave the Swiss midfielder on the bench. Like a Donald Trump rally, it doesn’t take much in this current Wenger era to incite hatred or riot and it feels like both the PSG and Hull performances were close to igniting the tinder. However, a late flurry of goals against Hull and the wastefulness of Edison Cavani in Parc des Paris probably prevented the kindling from ever really taking hold.
Arsene Wenger has always appeared reluctant to throw new players, especially those who have never encountered the Premier League, into the fray too early in their Arsenal careers. Even Sanchez, in spite of his experience in Italy and Spain, was given time to adapt to his surroundings. Cast an eye back to the North London derby in Sanchez’s opening season and you would find the Chilean sat amongst the Arsenal substitutes despite scoring in his previous games with the Gunners and being the catalyst for results in otherwise quite difficult fixtures.
Yet, rather than a reluctance to throw Granit Xhaka in at the deep end, maybe the reason lies in Wenger’s yearning for cohesion. The tried and test Cazorla and Coquelin axis has proved its worth in recent seasons. Both are compatible and have an understanding of what is expected from them. With this in mind, it would be somewhat remiss of Arsene Wenger to ignore Coquelin and Cazorla’s recent form and the results they have helped the club achieve.
Arsenal have rarely had such an eclectic array of midfield talent. Whilst Wenger was happy to promote Mustafi to the first team line up almost immediately, the functionality of our current midfield should preclude any changes. What message does Wenger send out if he drops Coquelin or Cazorla for Granit Xhaka despite both playing well and the club getting results? Furthermore, how would either player react to replacing Xhaka if the Swiss midfielder found himself in the injury room holding a replica Abou Diaby doll and pointing to where it hurts? Would they resent being back-up options? Would the previous decision to drop them despite their form cause any bitterness or antipathy? Cohesion has been one of the fundamental party lines from Arsenal these past two summers, they are not about to change tact.
The Premier League is the equivalent of trying to read Ulysses. It is notoriously difficult, draining and long. To disregard one of your most reliable players in favour of someone shiny and new would be tantamount to neglect. The entire squad will have to play their part if Arsenal are to succeed in going one better than last season’s 2nd place finish.
Where concern could arise is in Wenger’s aversion to the ‘horses for courses’ methodology. Wenger rarely adapts his team to thwart the opposition, instead relying on his team’s attacking instincts. There have been seldom occasions in the recent past where one could argue that Wenger has eschewed his values for a more pragmatic approach but they are the exception rather than the rule. What is indisputable is that Arsenal now have the personnel to thwart others, it’s only a question of how and when it is deployed.
Til next time,