Arsene Wenger must be praying he never has a full strength squad at his disposal.
For years, the criticism levelled at Arsenal was the lack of squad-depth. What happens when the inevitable injuries hit the team? But what was once a thinly-spread pool of talent has now become oversubscribed in certain positions. Especially central midfield.
With Wenger favouring the 4-2-3-1 formation, that only leaves two spots available in the starting 11 for a central midfielder to operate, with the number ten spot surely reserved for assist-king Mesut Ozil.
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If everyone stays fit and healthy, how does Wenger keep everyone happy with their limited playing time?
So who are the midfield possibilities?
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Santi Cazorla – A fan favourite and a genius with the ball at his feet. Arsenal sorely missed his link up play when he got injured last season and his ability to turn defence into attack. At 31, Cazorla is in his prime and unlikely to stick around to warm the bench.
Jack Wilshere – Academy product and prodigious talent, Wilshere continues to impress whenever he can string enough games together without an injury. His attitude off the field has been questioned, but the real debate will be whether he will ever be able to put the injury problems behind him. A rare English talent, but can Arsenal afford to see his gifts develop at a rival club?
Granit Xhaka – Described as a ‘young Schweinsteiger’, new-boy Xhaka did not make a £30 million move to the Gunners not to play a pivotal part in the first team activities. He should add some much needed steel to the midfield, although he is known to have an eye for a pass. An exciting proposition, with the fans desperate to see their new star settle in quickly.
Francis Coquelin – The impossible hero, Coquelin’s remarkable turnaround from Charlton Athletic loanee to first team midfielder happened in a matter of days. His tough, no nonsense defending and tackling is a breath of fresh air for a team deemed ‘physically soft’. He became the first name on the team sheet last season, so can Wenger really discard him after his performances last year?
Aaron Ramsey – Arguably one of the players of the tournament at this summer’s Euros, Aaron Ramsey consistently performs brilliantly when chosen in central midfield. He still hasn’t recaptured the form that saw him score 16 goals in the 2013/14 season, including the FA Cup final winner, but that is largely down to his acceptance at being played wide on the right, in a less preferable position. How long before the Welsh hero gets fed up with playing on the wing and wants to move?
Mohamed Elneny – Since his January move from Basle, Elneny has put in some impressive performances, including a stunning goal against Spanish champions Barcelona. The Egyptian became an important figure in the closing months of the season and Wenger is known to admire his recent signing.
For once, Arsene Wenger has round pegs to go in round holes, just too many of them. If Arsenal are going to be serious contenders, Wenger needs to find his best starting XI and stick to it.
However, that leaves the difficult decision between parking four central midfield talents on the bench, or rotating every game and losing momentum.
Wenger doesn’t want to lose any of them, but can he really keep them all content with less minutes on the pitch? Not to mention the young academy talents like Krystian Bielik and Daniel Crowley that need blooding-in with first team experience, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s desire to play more centrally.
For now, Wenger must be hoping his players don’t all get fit at once.
How can Arsene Wenger deal with the influx of midfielders at Arsenal? Leave us YOUR thoughts in the comment section below!
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