Why Arsenal should not start with Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott in the North London Derby
Although they made returns from injury with goals, here's why they should be benched against Tottenham
It was enjoyable to watch Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil on Sunday versus Aston Villa and to a slightly lesser degree Theo Walcott also. The German looked sharper and decisively impacted the game at key moments with his customary aplomb. Walcott also showed better signs, but for me was in large part a passenger in a game in which he should have had a field day.
However, it is indisputable that in their absence Arsenal have changed in telling ways. The pressing game has improved beyond all recognition and we have demonstrated the ability to win the ball back high up the pitch. We have also seen a sustained period in which our wide players whether deployed in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 have been willing to work extremely hard.
Arsenal’s attack has contributed defensively
For the most part, this has been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez, with Danny Welbeck initially and more recently Olivier Giroud as the focal point of our attack. Both have supported the full back admirably and their pace and tenacity has been evident and a feature of our play.
For me, Walcott has to demonstrate he can improve that aspect of his all round game if he is to feature regularly in the starting 11, certainly in games where we set up in a more compact fashion. As much as I admire Walcott, I personally see no way he can feature at present in a 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 as the player wide on the right. For those with long enough memories, it was often the case between 2007 and 2009/10 that Eboue was preferred on the right flank to Theo for the same reasons.
The change to 4-2-3-1 benefited Walcott as much as it did Cesc Fabregas back then and I would still see him ahead of Ox when we play that formation. Even then however, it was obvious that his lack of desire to work the flank often saw him drift central on Sunday and left Giroud working back for him which grated with me and those around me in Block 31.
It is perhaps Alexis and his performance levels that have either raised the bar or led Wenger to change the style, but it is to the benefit of the team as a whole. Others have adapted well and followed the lead and seriously upped their energy levels. One might argue, probably accurately, that Oxlade- Chamberlain is not yet having the telling contribution in the final third that Walcott might have, but the counter point is that his work rate and ball winning affords us more opportunities at the correct end of the pitch. His delivery is the final element of an otherwise improved all round game and his dribbling with the ball and ability to take a defender on have surpassed that of his senior colleague.
So returning the dilemma, or at least pleasant problem that Wenger faces, I don’t see in the new Arsenal that in any matches against top sides, how the team can carry two, what one might term, ‘luxury players’. This being the case, one might see the choice as being between Walcott and Ozil and I would agree. However, even this is not straightforward as whilst Ozil might be the obvious choice he finds himself endeavouring to slip back in the CAM role that Santi Cazorla has stepped back into and rather made his own at present.
On Sunday, he occupied the left flank and played rather well but if Alexis is fit he plays without any doubt. If we were playing weaker sides or indeed Spurs at home we might say, Ox is not fit so slot Ozil in on the right and let he, Sanchez and Cazorla interchange – and what a mouth watering prospect that would be. In truth, that is what I suspect most feel Arsene Wenger will do and it will be Ozil who gets the nod over Walcott to line up in the NLD. I am not so sure that is what we will see, although I won’t be upset if we did.
How should Arsenal set up against Tottenham?
I can’t help but keep coming back to what we did and did so very well against Man City. Now proper pundits such as Thierry Henry and Martin Keown lauded it as our best display for years. It was generally felt that Arsenal had grown up, turned a corner and found a way to compete and play in the big away games. All our fans felt it too and Arsenal social media was aglow as we basked in the glory or our new found maturity.
Now, three weeks later, it appears that we should entirely forget the plaudits and what worked and revert to type just because Ozil and Walcott are fit? Why when this is about the team, the club and the result and not about individuals? Now I know many will be reading this and thinking or about to tweet or write a comment along the lines of ‘Yes, Dave, but this is Spurs and they are not a big team or are not City’! Well, much as we hate them this is a stern test and cast your mind back to the smash and grab last season at the Lane. Did we enjoy the 3 points any the less without the free-flowing attacking panache?
For me, this is a big test of how far we have come and victory will open a large gap between us and them. So I hope Wenger sets up the team and plays the way we did so effectively against City in a similarly crucial away match. This means that the starting 11 will feature neither Ozil nor Walcott because the 4-1-4-1 suits neither of them. Both will be on the bench and can be introduced as the game is stretched and Spurs tire but for this observer at least that would be the correct decision.
It was a decision Madrid made with Ozil on many occasions as he started only about 66% of their games in his last season. It did not make him any less key to their performance over the season, but tactically he did not start matches vs City away in the Champions League, Barca on the Super Cup away and most notably, away at Altetico Madrid in the derby, for example.
If the team sets up at we did in Manchester we may see a compact 4-1-4-1 with two hard working wide men. If Ox is not fit to take part after a week’s rest after his starring role in the FA Cup, I hope the right midfield berth goes to Tomas Rosicky as we are hearing the Ox is out for at least this weekend. You can’t help feeling that Wenger rested him in the game vs Villa with the North London Derby in mind.
In recent years this fixture has been very kind to a rejuvenated Mozart, (the winner last year away below) and Sunday may again be his stage. Alexis I hope will be fresh and able to occupy his usual role on the left. Centrally that leaves is unchanged from City with Aaron Ramsey and the majestic Cazorla in the central two head of the disciplined sitting Coquelin.
In this formation Coquelin can be deployed to nullify Eriksen who so often is afforded too much space by other teams and Cazorla so adept at receiving the ball facing his own goal can gain be the spring board for us to hit Spurs on the break at pace. The set up will allow them superior possession as we have other sides of that but if they cannot break us down we will have the weapons to punish them in a fresh Rosicky and Sanchez and a bang in form Olivier Groud. I am predicting a 1-0 or even 2-0 win for the Arsenal.
Preferred Arsenal XI: Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla; Rosicky, Alexis, Giroud
Substitutes: Szczesny, Chambers, Gabriel, Ozil, Walcott, Akpom