It has been interesting to read comments on blogs which but a short while ago were calling for “glass ankles” Van Persie to be set aside, and yet without a blink (or an admission that they were wrong) are now blaming the Arsenal management for not having tied the same VP into a long term contract several years ago.
It has also been interesting reading the questions that are being proposed for this week’s meeting between fans’ groups and Ivan Gazidis – for they are remarkably similar to the questions that were put a year ago when Mr Gazidis attended the AGM of Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association. Perhaps I remember that meeting better than most as I was given the job of being the warm-up act for Mr Gazidis and my talk on the latest publication of the Arsenal History Society, given as we waited for Mr Gazidis entry, was not exactly what everyone had come to hear. (I thought I did rather well, but then, it was my 10 minutes of fame).
So I can only assume that those putting forward these same questions as last year to Mr Gazidis either have short memories, or haven’t bothered to look at the questions asked last year, or haven’t actually noticed how much the team is about to change.
It is true that we have no dramatic news on the defence as yet, although I fully expect Coquelin to step up and take a much stronger role. (That may not seem dramatic to anyone who doesn’t take in the matches live, but believe me this kid is brilliant).
But leaving that aside, in midfield and attack the signs are there for all to see.
In midfield I anticipate a line-up along the lines of
while in attack I rather fancy
Oxlade Chamberlain Van Persie Podolski
Back-ups and changes there are aplenty – not least with Gervinho, Walcott, Ramsey and Rosicky all available, but if those two sets of three outlined above are indeed the standard starting lineup when all are fit, then we do indeed have a 50% change. True Oxlade Chamberlain did indeed play some games, but he was hardly a regular. This coming season I expect that to be different.
Just how different those of us who have seen some of his contributions could indeed testify, but even if you don’t want to take my word for it, consider what Marco Van Basten said. He described AOC as “a gem” – and with that sort of comment you really do have to take notice. As you will have noticed the rave reviews are now pouring in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Playing for England at 18 doesn’t make him Pele (although I think Pele was 17 when he exploded on the pitch for Brazil) but he is certainly impressing the pundits.
Journalists who can only snarl when a player wears an Arsenal shirt, often change their tune when he turns up for England, and here is a case in point as they are suddenly noticing a player with pace and a lack of nerves.
He is powerful, there’s no doubt, although as Mr Wenger clearly has seen, he fades a bit at the moment – but then he’s only 18 and only had a year of Mr Wenger’s dietary control. More strength will undoubtedly come.
But where to play him. Winger? That’s where I have put him with an ability to cut inside and scare the hell out of backtracking defenders. But he could also be in the attacking midfield role. Or defensive midfield even. We’ve seen bits of him doing everything at Arsenal, but the fear must be that this England manager will do what so many have done before him and keep to the old ways, and fitting a remarkable player into a staid system that reduces creativity. But even if this happens the Ox will undoubtedly come back to his true form upon return to London.
My hope is strengthened by the story that says that while he was at the club again, Thierry Henry was giving the youngster advice. And who better to tell you how to develop your game than a player of such ability who lost his way and allowed Mr Wenger to rebuild his approach with him? Robin VP also had some words of guidance too, reported as, “keep being patient, keep working hard, keep learning off all the boys and your time will come. When it does, make sure you grab it with two hands”.
Apparently the Ox has 11 GCSEs, which tends to indicate a spot of intellect and a willingness to learn, and he is still very much developing. So is Jack Wilshere, who as you might have noted, I have put in the same team as Alex next season, thus making two of my three new faces.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain appeared in 16 league games last season often as a sub. Supposing he becomes a regular, and supposing Jack becomes a regular too. That suddenly is 18% of the entire team changed around. Add in Podolski and 27% of the team is now different. Or 50% of the midfield and attack.
I think there is more to come – but that is one hell of a start.
By Tony Attwood
Published with permission from Untold Arsenal: Arsenal News. Supporting the Lord Wenger; coach of the decade.