Arsenal are a team riddled with problems.
They obviously need a top class centre-forward to replace Olivier Giroud, who has scored in just one of his last 20 appearances for the club. There’s also a strong argument for a new centre-half, with Arsene Wenger seemingly having doubts over the ability of both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista. However, there is one area of the pitch where the situation is equally problematic but substantially less clear: central midfield.
Wenger began the season with a clear first-choice pairing of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. However, those two have not been seen on the field together since November. With a host of other injuries, Arsenal then had to make do with an imbalanced partnership between Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini.
It tells you something about the changing face of the Arsenal midfield that Flamini now struggles to even make the bench. With Cazorla now back in training, Wenger has a full complement of midfielders to choose from. The issue is that he does not seem certain of which two to select.
Having been an automatic pick through 2015, Coquelin currently finds himself on the bench. The man who was credited with restoring balance to the Arsenal XI last year is now seemingly out of favour. In his stead, Wenger has opted for a pairing between Ramsey and January arrival Mohamed Elneny.
It seems as if the Gunners boss is determined to build his midfield around Ramsey’s talents. In the opening game of the season, Cazorla was shunted wide with the former Cardiff man in the middle with Coquelin. It was in that role that he flourished in 2013/14, winning Arsenal’s Player of the Year in the process. In that season, Ramsey usually played alongside Mikel Arteta, but the brittle Spaniard can no longer be considered a viable option.
Elneny seems to be a good foil for Ramsey. In fact, he looks as if he could be a good foil for almost anyone. Thus far, he’s impressed next to both Ramsey and Coquelin. Elneny appears to have the tactical intelligence to adapt his game to complement his partner. That makes him a valuable and versatile asset to Wenger.
However, it does not necessarily mean that a Ramsey-Elneny axis is the way to go in the long-term. There are others to consider, for starters. Cazorla’s playmaking ability from deep made him absolutely integral to the side for the first third of the season. The Spaniard will feel he has the right to a recall.
Then there’s Jack Wilshere to consider. The Englishman has missed most of the season through injury, but could play some small part in what remains of the campaign. One of the consequences of Wilshere’s prolonged absences is that he’s yet to define his position. In his limited cameos, he will hope to convince Wenger he can provide another alternative in the centre of the park.
It’s good to have a variety of options at the manager’s disposal, but Arsenal currently look like a team without a plan. Wenger must decide on the kind of midfield he wants to field and proceed accordingly.
The summer will certainly bring change. Flamini, Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are all set to depart the club, meaning at least one new midfield arrival looks likely.
Any new signings must fit into the template Wenger decides upon. Arsenal have plenty of gifted midfielders—Wenger’s task is to identify the combination that most benefits the team.
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