Can too many cooks spoil success for Arsene Wenger?
Arsene Wenger will be the envy of many a manager following Arsenal’s 4-1 thrashing of Galatasaray. In the words of the veteran coach, Danny Welbeck was “electric” as he lead the attack, but the supporting cast were almost equally impressive.
The Gunners may have been facing a Galatasaray side who were dreadful in defence, but th performance going forward was vintage Wenger. A bench that included Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski spoke volumes about Arsenal’s progress and strength in depth.
A tougher test will come against Premier League leaders Chelsea, who are up next, but Wenger will certainly have given mischievous Jose Mourinho something to think about. However, the north London side still have much to do before shaking off their reputation as soft in the middle.
Last season, losing the likes of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, in addition to Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, would have constituted a disaster, but Arsenal should now barely blink in their absence, and must push on.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Welbeck proved to be a fearsome quartet last time out, finally showing signs of a team beginning to gel. They have the potential to be just as devastating as, and possibly more aesthetically pleasing than, London rivals Chelsea’s exhilarating axis of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.
Now Wenger may soon face a starting XI selection nightmare, never mind headache. Jack Wilshere was rested against Galatasaray, a wise decision considering his fitness record, but may find himself the future recipient of more first-team tinkering than intended.
Wilshere can of course play in a deeper midfield role as well as a number 10, but has seen the latter position threatened ever since Ozil’s arrival. As shown this season, the Germany World Cup winner is at his best off the front, not shunted to the wing, and has shown sparks of a prolific partnership with Welbeck.
If Ozil can keep producing moments of quality to unlock defences, Wilshere will be fighting for a spot in central midfield. His deployment in a deeper, more defensive role has been met with mixed results so far, but the England international has little time left to learn the ropes with Santi Cazorla also fighting for a starting spot.
The silky Spaniard looked a natural fit in his supporting role alongside Mathieu Flamini, orchestrating from deep. It is unlikely he will be risked in that position against Chelsea’s strong centre, but, after his last showing, he deserves another chance to shine in that role.
With Arteta and Ramsey both expected to be sidelined for around a month, Wilshere must also take the opportunity to star, or face falling down the pecking order.
Whilst this high quality level of strength in depth must be refreshing to Gunners supporters, and the increased competition could spur stars on to the next level, Wenger must also be careful to ease the egos of those pushed to the fringes. Team spirit and determination have sometimes seemed to desert Arsenal ranks at crunch moments, and a happy camp is key if they are to attempt to catch the Blues at the top of the table.
There is also a delicate balance to find between using squad depth to rest players, and reckless rotation. Sanchez showed his displeasure at being subbed against Galatasaray, as Wenger continues to bed the Chile star into his side more slowly than expected. The former Barcelona forward appears to always be the first to be sacrificed or benched for defensive stability.
Ozil, by comparison, had been suffering from a dip in performances, but Wenger stood by his club-record signing. The decision appears to have paid off, with the German dazzling against Aston Villa and Galatasaray, but once the likes of Ramsey and Walcott return, choosing may not be so easy.
Lukas Podolski, meanwhile, appears to have tired of the bench already, after making just one start in all competitions this term.
Speaking recently, 29-year-old Podolski said: “I am a full-blooded player, a street player and I love competition.
“If I don’t have this competition every weekend then a change must occur.”
Speed merchant Walcott could also find it difficult to force his way back into the side once he regains fitness, and may pay the price for his fragility, with new additions Sanchez and Welbeck also able to provide splintering pace.
Despite recently signing a new contract, Giroud will similarly be feeling the heat following Welbeck’s hat-trick heroics, as the Three Lions forward now appears to have added the missing ingredient to his game.
It is now up to Wenger, who is available at 14/1 with Coral to lead Arsenal to the Premier League title, to keep competition healthy, and make sure his squad are all pulling in the same direction.