Having been together for the better part of four years and heading into mid-season joint top of the table with title favourites Manchester City, Arsenal’s stand-out core of 2015 are the latest of Arsene’s crop to raise expectations around the Gooner fanbase.
With the Gunners establishing themselves as the team with the highest points tally in this calendar year (like the team of 2013), a couple of these players now hold a certain degree of momentum that injuries or a dip in form could extinguish in the space of an International break.
One player certain to avoid this inter-lull hoodoo despite his growing continental reputation is Francis Coquelin. Since his 2015 bow at Southampton, the Frenchman hasn’t looked back, putting in an impressive string of consistent displays throughout the year that French National team Coach Didier Deschamps must certainly be aware of.
However, Coquelin’s mercurial Spanish partner, Santi Cazorla doesn’t seem to have been at the peak of his powers recently, the brightest indication yet that he’s jaded and in need of a much deserved rest.
Judging by Arsene’s reluctance to rest the 30-year old, it points to either a lack of options Wenger deems fit to compete with the Spaniard, or the unavailability of a project close to Arsene; a project that involves Jack Wilshere at the heart of the Arsenal midfield.
With the natural ability of the young ex-Academy man in bringing the ball out of defence while under pressure, Wilshere looks tailor-made to be an ideal replacement/competition for Santi Cazorla, who has done an excellent job in retaining possession and propelling the team’s numerous transitions from deep since the turn of the year.
With Arsene always willing to involve Jack in his first team plans, Wilshere’s return therefore points to an interesting selection process/decision to make, at the gaffer’s table of thoughts.
It’s no secret Arsene sees the Englishman’s future in central midfield but with the 23-year old’s fitness and tactical struggles, it’s unclear if the Arsenal boss will thrust Wilshere straight into Arsenal’s engine room, let alone even give him the nod to start alongside Cazorla when the need arises.
This perhaps points to the fact that Jack is by no means the complete midfielder (yet). His tendency to get drawn to the ball by the opposition, rather than the defensive space could cost those around him but the silver lining in this situation is the fact that these tactical faults of his can be resolved, especially with the technical expertise of Mikel Arteta, Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini and the aforementioned Cazorla.
Last season, Jack mentioned the fact that he was trying to learn a thing or two from deep midfield experts such as Javier Mascherano and Andrea Pirlo, having been deployed in a deeper role for England recently.
Having the aforementioned Arsenal quartet to learn from therefore should prove to be a win-win scenario for the man who another central midfield Legend – Xavi recently tipped to become the new Engine of the Three Lions.
“I have played against him, I have watched him carefully, and if he can overcome injuries, then he can still go on an be one of the best midfield players in the world. Now I see Wilshere as the future of English football, that is why it is so important they keep him fit.” –Xavi on Wilshere.
More so, central midfield still looks to be the only area Wilshere is capable of owning, long term. The bursts, broad vision and high octane style of Arsenal’s no.10 suits him as a double pivot player.
To this end, January once again might turn out to be a season-defining month for Arsenal, with Wilshere on course to be fully match fit by that period, which would also usher in the return of the transfer market.
If indeed the competition we’ve witnessed at the top of the table in the first 12 weeks is anything to go by, providing competition for Santi Cazorla in the winter window would be a step in the right direction for Arsenal, with the Gunners’ central midfield sometimes not clicking into gear in games, till the early stages of the second half.
Granted, Cazorla has added some degree of bulkiness and defensive consciousness to his ambidextrous style but the ex-Malaga man has still struggled to impose himself in a couple of games. This has cost Arsenal dearly sometimes, especially on the Gunners’ home turf, where the first half is always key.
With the need arising after each passing game, the Gunners could certainly do with another robust player in the middle of the park, to assist Coquelin in closing down opposition passing lanes and winning more loose balls, while also possessing the technical ability to begin and end transitions, as well as fitting in alongside either Jack or Santi.
It’s not going to be a stroll in the park searching for an answer in the middle of the park but with Arsenal standing a real chance of claiming their first Premier League title since the move to the Emirates Stadium, it is imperative to make the most out of the second half of the season.
Regardless of that option being explored from within (Wilshere) or out there in the transfer market, Arsenal cannot afford to allow the fatigue/fitness of players like Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin undermine potential league glory especially when the team needs the extra legs in midfield in the first quarter of 2016.
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