Santi Cazorla is Arsenal’s Achilles

The dumpster fire that is 2016 roars on unabated as reports surfaced today that Santi Cazorla is set to miss at least 3 months with Achilles surgery. I have had an Achilles injury and I can tell you that the nagging ones are the worst. The last time I saw a doctor about it he said “well, you can either get the surgery and be out for a year or wait for it to snap, suffer immeasurable pain, and then also be out for a year.” From all accounts, Cazorla has a better doctor than I did and he will be back in a mere three months.

Cazorla’s absence is a huge blow to Arsenal. When he was out last season Arsenal created 16.4 shots per game with him and 14.4 without him and more importantly Arsenal created 3.1 Big Chances per game with him in the team and 2 per game without him. This same pattern repeated this season, with a marked drop in Big Chance creation with Cazorla sidelined.

With Cazorla out until nearly the end of the season, Wenger’s midfield headaches are also thrown into stark relief. The Arsenal manager has already used six different starting midfield pairings so far this season and three different pairings in the last three games. The only pair Wenger hasn’t tried from the start is Ramsey-Xhaka. With reports that “Arsenal looked better”* with those two against Southampton in the League Cup, I expect to see them teamed up this weekend.

Wenger is also looking at problems with the right back position. Jenkinson has had a run of poor form and needed to be subbed off against Southampton. His replacement, Debuchy, is injured and won’t be available for at least a few weeks as he recovers from a self-proclaimed “severe” hamstring injury.

Qq

*Considering that they were being compared to Elneny-with-dysentery and Coquelin, which is Arsenal’s worst midfield combination even when Elneny is healthy, this is a low bar.

38 comments

  1. just posted this on the previous thread in a reply to dr gooner:

    clearly, you don’t appreciate the significance of losing cazorla at dm. maybe i can remind you. at the start of the season, cazorla wasn’t really fit and arsenal had a single point after two games. then cazorla got fit and arsenal started winning, nearing the top of the table. then cazorla got hurt and arsenal started dropping points to teams like middlesborough and were extremely lucky not to lose against mourinho’s manchester united and tottenham.

    it’s as simple as this, when cazorla plays dm, arsenal look like they can beat any team in europe. when he doesn’t play, arsenal look as though they can be beaten by any team in europe. after arteta starting being chronically injured, arsenal looked a shambles in midfield until wenger dropped cazorla into the dm role, then arsenal looked like world beaters.

    many often understate the value of a dm. a lot of gooners thought the most insignificant player in the invincibles was gilberto silva, until he broke his back and the invincibles began to look very beatable. claude makalele was derided when he asked for a new contract at real madrid. look at how it went for the galactico after selling the frenchman to chelsea.

    besides santi, and to a lesser extent coquelin, there’s only xhaka who can play the #6 spot at arsenal and he’s looking better but not quite ready. the idea that there are plenty of players at arsenal who could play there or that jack wilshere would deputize well there is naive. it’s a tactical position that requires your more intelligent and experienced players. i hope as much as everyone else that xhaka gets it right sooner than later. make no mistake, arsenal need him to or, like nyc said, ‘yep, we’re done’; done meaning arsenal’s title challenge this season. we’ll see.

    1. And I’ll post this again in reply, courtesy of Arsene Wenger:

      “He’s important to our technical stability in the team, to the quality of our decision-making and to our build-up from deep midfield to the high midfield,” said the boss. “That’s an important stage because it gets the ball out from the defenders.
      “We have enough quality players in our side to get around that, even if Santi a massive player for us. We are good enough to find solutions despite the fact he’s not there.”

    2. “when cazorla plays dm, arsenal look like they can beat any team in europe.”

      Oh please. He’s been part of many a stuffing in Europe.

      And your comparisons with Gilberto and Mekelele are off. Way off. Cazorla is not a classic water carrier and stopper in the mould of the two guys you mentioned, or a Didier Deschamps or Dunga. You just pulled out of a hat, names of underrated midfielders who are fundamentally different from Santi. I could understand if you said Pirlo, but not those two.

      We need to stop wailing and gnashing teeth over Santi. Fabulous player yes, integral, yes, but we don’t have him. I’ve had Achilles injuries from running too. Seems like they never bloody heal. Also, Santi is getting on in age. That’s two significant and long Achilles related absences in two seasons. Looks like he’s close to being done.

      We have to make the best of what we have. Xhaka looks an exceptional talent waiting to burst forth, Elneny not so much (the answer to a question no one asked, seemingly because he was so cheap), and Ramsey would benefit from some positional stability. We have to get used to life without Santi.

      1. Ok, this should be easy enough to look up , though I’m too lazy to do so myself:

        Since January 2015, when Wenger permanently moved Santi back to central midfield, how many times have we lost with Santi starting? My guess is very, very few times. We went on an excellent unbeaten run that season that culminated in the second FA Cup win, our form at the beginning of last season stayed pretty strong (with the exception of some very lousy performances in Europe, but not sure Santi started in all of them) right up until his injury (even the poor performance and home draw against Spurs involved a sick Santi “pulling an Elneny” and needing to be subbed off at halftime), he was basically out until the end of the season, then he was back for the beginning of this one in which we’ve been on a long unbeaten run and were playing brilliantly until he got injured.

        So, seriously, how many times have we lost with him starting in that position? It might be so few as to be countable on one hand. Even draws won’t add up to too many.

        The guy is brilliant, and we have absolutely been hugely dependent on him (and his partnership with Coquelin) since January 2015. The only other player who might be as important to our success, I think, is Koscielny.

        1. Looking at wins with/without Cazorla is pretty meaningless in my opinion. It’s like a much weaker version of the basketball “lineups” stats where they try to figure out which is the best lineup based on who was playing and the metrics behind it. Except in this case you’re using only one metric (wins) and trying to correlate that with the presence of a single player, without accounting for the literally dozens of variables that could be confounding that association: for example, the strength of the opposition, who else was/was not playing that day, the weather, the goals that were scored and their probability to change the match, and so on and so forth. Further than that, scientifically speaking, even if you had numbers to back up your claim, there is no way you could argue that the correlation was causation. For example, the Celtics are 8-2 when Brad Stevens wears a tie and 4-6 when he doesn’t. Is that any more meaningful than saying the Celtics are (I’m going to make this up) 8-2 when Terry Rozier plays at least 25 minutes and 4-6 when he doesn’t? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Brad Stevens likes to wear ties to home games or against easier opposition because he spends longer planning his games against tough teams. Maybe Terry Rozier only comes on for that many minutes when Boston is already ahead or against weaker teams. A celebrity dies every time Aaron Ramsey scores. I could go on.

          I’m not saying Santi Cazorla is like Terry Rozier. What I am saying is that although he undoubtably makes us a better team, it is not useful or valid from a methodology point of view to use wins with/without him to make that point. Even the team stats of chances created, passes completed, tackles won, etc would be influenced by him but not necessarily driven by him. The only way you could really drill into this would be to look at an advanced metric like a win share or a WAR but we just don’t have that in football.

          I’ve been through this argument so many times I can’t tell you with various players. Remember when Monreal was drafted in to play CB and people said it would cost us the season? Same as now. Only Monreal rose up to the challenge and it made him a much better left back. He had early wobbles but by the time you account for all of the games he played in that position plus all the quality starts we got out of him after that at left back (when it looked like his career might be ending with us) you have to say the net benefit of that move was probably greater for the club than if we had signed Simon Kjaer and been committed to his contract for several years.

          Santi’s absence is part of the necessary volatility that it sometimes takes in football to stumble onto something. The Coq-zorla partnership itself came about due to injuries to first choice players, as did opportunities for Bellerin and Iwobi. One of Wenger’s great strengths as a manager is he can embrace that volatility and use it to provide opportunities for improvement in his teams. Most other people would just try to find “another Cazorla” or have the most similar player play the most similar role he can, but Wenger understands that is not going to work. What he can do is uncork the potential of Xhaka, Ramsey, El-Neny and use this absence to to inspire and encourage them to play their best football. Opportunities for change are absolutely necessary for improvement on an existing process/structure.

          1. Um, the tie/celebrity examples are obviously stupid. We KNOW there’s no causal relationships there. Suggesting there’s a non-arbitrary relation between Santi playing and Arsenal getting better results (i.e. more wins, less losses) is obviously not ridiculous in the same way, since presumably Santi’s contributions on the pitch have the potential to effect the outcomes of football matches. (This is not a controversial statement.)
            That’s not to say I think I can “prove” anything, just that the stats would make for interesting reading, since I’m pretty sure we really don’t lose many games when he plays in a deep lying midfield role for us, and it would be good to have this confirmed, especially if the stats were quite striking, e.g. say we’d only lost 3 times with him starting in that position since the beginning of 2015. Of course there could be (indeed, there are, since no one is saying it’s entirely down to Santi) all sorts of other contributing factors to help explain why we win when we win and lose when we lose. But the stats would also be in line with the testimony of our own eyes, telling us (I think we’re pretty much all in agreement here) that Santi Cazorla is a bloody good footballer, and we tend to play better (independently of results, i.e. more flow, more control of the ball, get into more dangerous attacking positions, etc) when he’s on the pitch.

          2. I must say I’m also unclear as to what argument of mine you think you’re dismantling. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s a straw man. I’m not suggesting (I don’t think anyone else is on this site, but I can’t speak for everyone) that we definitely won’t win the title, or even be close now, because of Cazorla’s injury. I’m not saying he’s the single reason we’ve gone on long unbeaten runs when he’s in the side, or that he’s single handedly the difference between winning and losing in any particular match. Such claims would be ridiculous, at the very least because (a) they’re impossible to prove, but also probably because (b) they’re false. (I suppose it could be true that adding/subtracting Santi to the lineup in a number of games, while keeping a host of other contributing factors constant, changes whether we win/lose, but even if that were the case, we could never know (see (a)), and it’s also obviously very different from suggesting Santi is the sole or primary cause of the result.)

            I think if anyone’s positing spurious explanatory connections between unrelate events, it’s your contention that Monreal’s couple of games at CB “made him a much better left back.” Now there’s a claim that has zero hope of being proved! I suspect he was already that good, just that at the time he hadn’t yet gotten a long enough run in the side at LB to show how good he is (plus the natural bedding in period that comes with arriving in the middle of the season at a new club in a new country).

            Finally, as for the “net benefit to the club” argument, re Monreal vs. Kjaer and “necessary volatility,” I don’t really disagree, except that this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of management, where Wenger is forced–usually through injuries and failure to properly strengthen in the transfer windows–to find on-the-pitch solutions and develop players in unfamiliar roles in the middle of the season, can’t be considered an unqualified success since it hasn’t exactly led to much silverware lately. While I admire Wenger’s abilities in this respect, I also think it’s worth pointing out that these periods of improvisation usually occur after a period of bad form when the team isn’t functioning well, and maybe if we could’ve eliminated one or two of those mid-season meltdowns, Arsenal would have won the league, or at least come closer, in one of these last few seasons. Surely last year, if we hadn’t sucked so badly for several months after Cazorla’s injury, we would have had a great chance of beating Leicester to the title, and if we had had someone with Cazorla’s qualities ready to step in in his absence, it’s not crazy to think we would have played much better through that period (not saying I can prove any causal connection!). Of course eventually I trust Wenger to find a non-Cazorla solution in the middle of the park. But my point is, should he get a lot of credit for that solution when it comes, if it only arrives after a period of floundering, where we drop points that ultimately cost us a shot at the title?

    3. yeah, have to (grudgingly) agree with claudeivan, at least on one point: Santi is not a “dm,” at least if that implies that he’s principally in there to, you know, play defense, the way Gilberto and those others you mentioned were. I agree he’s crucial, but the idea that Xhaka and Wilshere couldn’t, at least partially and imperfectly, fill the role that Santi fills seems off base to me.

    4. Related to your post a couple of days ago: It’s looking increasingly likely that shortcuts were taken regarding the lack of fuel on the LaMia plane that crashed this week. Pilot had the option to refuel in Bogota but didn’t take it, and it seems the extra 30 minutes of fuel wasn’t taken either. The electrical failure is interesting…doesn’t the Avro have a ram air turbine? Maybe only the big jets have ’em.

      1. ram air serves two purposes, primarily. first, to cool the internal engine parts. second, to facilitate the vaporization of the fuel/air mixture. the engine’s rpm is what causes the generator to run. in order for the engine to run you need three things and ram air is only one of them; the other two are a spark and fuel (lack of fuel being the problem).

        i hope i don’t sound condescending.

        1. You’re not condescending. I appreciate the explanation. I’m not a pilot, but I’m interested in how planes work. I just meant that the RAT should keep instruments and controls working. Is that not the case? I thought it could be used to power the hydraulics and the generator.

  2. Tim, can you think of anyone who we might be able to target in January to help replicate what Santi brought to this team?

  3. Nice one 7am – Santi as Achilles works on so many levels.

    We have a definite identity with him partnering another player in midfield, and results back that up. The fact that we can’t find a 2nd best combination in his absence is really troubling. Santi uses his technique to take an opponent out of the game and then finds an early pass that gives the receiving player a fraction more time on the ball. Wenger wants his team to play this vertical style but too many of our midfielders, and even our full-backs at crucial times, can’t execute the penetrative early pass. That to me is a bigger problem than any one player going missing. In terms of our build-up play from deep positions, Mustafi, Bellerin and Xhaka are also noticeably good at this, but without enough players attacking space we quickly looked “blocked” as we have in so many of those big November games. The early pass Van Dijk made that exposed the right side of our defence against Southampton is an example of the type of pass we don’t execute enough of (we see it more when Danny Welbeck plays due to his intelligent runs).

    I agree with joshuad in that Santi’s role is a tactical one that requires both technique and intelligence. Let’s remember that the Cazorla that arrived in 2012 could not run our midfield like the 2015/16 Cazorla can. I mean, we could identify another player to take his place in the transfer window, but we also need tactical adjustments throughout the side if we’re to keep pace at the top of the table.

  4. The idea that we’re doomed because we are losing a single player makes me want to tear my hair out in big chunks. I think there is a lot of last case bias because of what happened last season and a lot of confirmation bias because Santi played in some of our best team performances of the season. He also played away to PSG and we got hammered there, so there is that.

    By the way it’s his plantaris tendon, the same thing Vermaelen had, not his achilles.

    Also, Arsenal didn’t look better with Ramsey and Xhaka because they were never partnered in midfield. The midfield partnerships were, initially, Coq-Neny, then Coq-Xhaka. Ramsey was off gallivanting in the #10 role and wasn’t really a part of the midfield. I would like to actually try Ramsey-Xhaka at the base of midfield. Would probably open the floodgates in both directions and lead to a wild match of drunken boxing punch/counterpunch, but because Arsenal have better forwards than West Ham, it could work out in our favor.

    1. Side effect of watching Arsenal may include: rage induced trichotillomania.

      You know what it’s going to take to make Ramsey and Xhaka work?

      I’ll tell you later.

      It’s not what you think.

      1. I think it’s going to take adding a third CM. And a coherent game plan and some coordination/spacing when out of possession (and when in possession too, really). But that’s my answer to any Arsenal-related question.

    2. Good point I also noticed: Ramsey was nowhere close to forming a partnership with Xhaka in centre midfield yesterday. He was at his frustrating worst throughout. That, plus the fact that Elneny isn’t actually injured and will probably be over a stomach bug by the weekend, and the fact that Xhaka and Elneny looked pretty good as a partnership last week, suggests Wenger will play them again there.
      If he does go with the Ramsey-Xhaka axis, I’d be happy even though Ramsey is driving me crazy right now, as then we’d finally get to see the partnership that we’ve all been saying since the summer looks like it might work on paper. Plus, if Wenger sticks with those two for a run of games, Ramsey would be given the best possible chance to rediscover his 13-14 form (on the assumption that Xhaka is roughly a bigger, stronger, better Arteta), and he’d have no more excuses if he failed. I’m not wishing that he does, but it would be good to address the will-Ramsey-ever-find-his-best-form-for-Arsenal-again question head on, once and for all.
      Having said all that, Wenger will probably opt for Xhaka and Coquelin on the weekend, just to be contrary…

      1. I really like Xhaka, but in my opinion he’s nowhere near the quality of 13-14 Arteta at this point. Needs significant improvement in his positioning and decision-making to get there.

    3. you can’t call that bias, doc. that stuff actually happened. and arsenal actually went to psg and got a draw on the road. maybe you don’t watch psg but they play some of the greatest football in the world and they knock the ball around anyone.

      pfo, no question xhaka is bigger and stronger than arteta. however, to say he’s better? i don’t think i can agree with that one. that’s not to mention that he’s probably slower than arteta.

      1. PSG are statistically the best passing team in Europe. Without ever looking at stats it should be clear from watching them play. Man City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Man Utd have spent billions in the five years but PSG made the greatest leap out of all of them because of their recruitment.

        They pass and retain the ball at a level only peak-Barcelone can match. Without Santi in Paris, we’d have been blown away. His influence on this team cannot be questioned. Period.

      2. With all due respect to Arteta and your high opinion of him, if Xhaka isn’t better than Arteta, then WHAT IN THE WORLD have we paid £35 million for?????!!!!???
        As for Xhaka being slower, I don’t think so, provided we’re not talking about Arteta as attacking midfielder in his pomp at Everton but the Arteta who finished out his career with us. Certainly the Arteta of 2014 onwards was far too weak and slow to provide adequate defensive cover for a team with genuine pretensions of being one of the best in Europe (I remember a game in the winter/spring of ’14, during what was supposedly one of his best seasons for us, that Arteta was getting absolutely destroyed by the high press of Southampton, and I realized at that moment that we had zero chance of winning the league with Arteta as our starting DM; in the weeks that followed, we let in 5 against Liverpool and 6 against Chelsea). Not saying he wasn’t a great servant for the club, didn’t bring stability in a tough period, etc, etc, but I think some folks on here remember his contributions for us, even at the best of times, with rose-tinted glasses.
        If Xhaka, even with parts of his game still raw, isn’t already an upgrade on Arteta, then I seriously fear for the future of this club.

  5. My initial reaction at the news was that the title challenge is over, and I still feel strongly that it is. However, we are yet to see if Ramsey and Xhaka can strike up a good partnership and who knows – maybe they will surprise us. However, as much as most of us has been clamoring to see that partnership in MF, it’s still a completely untested and unproven partnership. So we are basically hanging on our hopes on a theory based on what we have seen from the Ramsey and Arteta partnership. That version of Ramsey that partnered Arteta is gone. The current version of Ramsey has forgotten what it means to play a simple, disciplined game. He will need to roll back to his older version if he is to anchor our MF. Wenger, for his part, will need to drill that into his head.

    I am not hanging on to that hope. It’s effing depressing but hoping is worse.

  6. Does anyone else think Wenger might Write Elneny off entirely after last nights cup match?? I do. I have.

    1. Um, WHAT???!!!!?! Is that a joke? You do know he came off with a stomach illness that he’d apparently been feeling the effects of before kickoff, right?

  7. I don’t think a title challenge is blown because of Cazorla’s absence. I think the title challenge has been a non-starter for years now, and this year is no exception. Every year we suffer major injuries to major personnel, not just one or two, and a severe downturn in form in November and February that ultimately dooms us. Is it the way we train, is it a mental thing, is it a lack of quality in certain areas also related to squad depth, is it a style of football, is it an over-dependence on one or two player, is it, is it? Yes.

    On the other hand, Cazorla is hugely important to this team, as Tim’s stats quite clearly show. Win percentage, chances created, shots. That’s pretty convincing. I wonder if there’s another player on the team who makes such a big difference in terms of those percentages with and without their presence?

    Also, loved this: “The dumpster fire that is 2016 roars on unabated…”

    1. Exactly right about the title challenge.
      What title challenge ?!?!

      I’m a huge Cazorla fan but if missing a player who’s on £90k per week is the determining factor for a failed title bid, then perhaps Cazorla should fire his agent imiedietly for negligence and gross incompetence.
      He shouldn’t be Arsenal’s joint seventh highest earner, on par with players like Wilshere and Ramsey, but rather more in line with Sanchez and Ozil.

  8. claudeivan, i don’t know what a water carrier player is. regardless, when i mentioned gilberto and makalele, it seemed clear that it wasn’t to compare their play to cazorla’s. it was to compare how their actual absence from the team was far more significant than anticipated by some folks. the irony is we’ve just seen this ‘cazorla’s out’ movie like a year ago but a handful of arsenal fans have already forgotten how the story goes.

    dr. gooner, wenger’s quotes are no more than lip service. if he truly believed what he said, wenger wouldn’t keep changing the midfield and arsenal’s midfield performances would’t be so abysmal. in fact, if what he said were true, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. besides, the points that wenger makes aren’t even the half of what makes cazorla an effective dm. bottom line is wenger is lying when he says it’s not difficult to replace cazorla at dm. i agree, cazorla’s absence doesn’t necessarily mean arsenal are doomed, but wenger better stop lying and pretending it’s no big deal.

    the biggest quality cazorla brings is experience. when the young bucks are in a tough spot and don’t know what to do, they give the ball to big brother santi because he seems to always have the answers. santi, like arteta before him, is not a dm in the traditional sense but their experience is what makes them more effective as a #6 than the other arsenal midfield players. whenever he’s unavailable we see just how much more significant the tactical nous is than the technical talent. arsenal are also missing the top quality distribution from mertesacker and the panache from bellerin but that’s another discussion.

    1. I don’t think you actually understand what bias is. You reference the exact type of bias I was mentioning in the paragraph right before you tell me you’re not actually biased. Which is bogus, by the way. We are all biased.

      Your second paragraph hardly makes sense. Why would the truth of Wenger’s interviews be related to on pitch performances?! Then you call him a liar because he doesn’t expound on all the ways Santi is important (in your opinion!).

      The most concerning thing is that you are so incredibly attached to your point of view that you don’t consider for a second that you could be wrong, or that someone else’s alternate view could equally as be valid. You’ve tried to educate me and sort me out on this for three different threads without considering that maybe it’s not that I’m stupid or misinformed, maybe I’ve looked at the same things as you and come to a different conclusion.

    2. I don’t think Wenger’s necessarily lying, there is a good chance that he actually believes he can replace Cazorla but the truth is probably somewhere in between. Either way, the effect is the same though – it’s just lip service as you correctly point out. There is no way we can replace Cazorla in this squad.

      Experience aside, I think we also need a technically good player in MF for it to function properly. Every good MF combinations we have had always had at least one technically gifted player. Cazorla, Cesc, Rosicky, Vieira were all technically brilliant. Arteta was technically good too but not as much as the others, however he did make up for it with his experience and that’s where experience does come into the picture.

      Ramsey, even though he is young, is quite experienced but regularly gets found out against top teams (and apparently against mid table teams too). Put pressure on him, and he loses the ball. That’s not a sign of a good technical player. We haven’t seen enough of Xhaka but it seems like he might be a bit better than Ramsey in that department. With so many top teams playing the pressing game well these days, I am really skeptical about our chances of finding a proper MF pairing without Santi.

  9. “You know what it’s going to take to make Ramsey and Xhaka work? I’ll tell you later.It’s not what you think.”

    Play Walcott up front, Iwobi on the right and Sanchez on the left?

  10. The question I want to know here is does Messi need a neymar or a suarez to play well?…..a FAT NO,does iniesta need a only a Xavi to play well? another FAT NO,the midfield may not flow as much without the combinations above but it does not mean iniesta bcomes a really bad player bcos he needs a shoe horn player nxt to him….that’s wat good players r about,no mata d average player u play nxt 2 them there qualities still show even if wit d rite player nxt to them there qualities shines even beta,what am I trying 2 say here,u guys keep making excuses for ramsey,he needs A or B to play well not C n D,ramsey as been paired wit cazorla,flamini,coq on weds day as a 10,against Liverpool as a 10 and he was beyond poor,we keep saying the midfield combo is not rite,the team setup is not rite but on weds day….. food 4 though a certain IWOBI still played well under dos conditions

  11. Seems to me that the current set up with Ozil as a high 10 puts demands on the ‘back six’ to deliver quality possession into high midfield, as Wenger would term it. When it works it’s great. Cazorla can do it really well, and his dribbling lets him get out of trouble when outnumbered. This allowed a limited player like Coquelin to shine next to him in a focused role, but shorn of a like for like replacement the quality of the rest of the midfield options (not to mention the back up fullbacks) has been exposed – they’re not good enough to go two against three and reliably build attacks, so the team is stalling when the ball’s at the back.

    If we want to keep playing this way we need to find complete midfielders, not role players. Xhaka has shown enough good to believe he is part of that. Ramsay has shown it in the past, but the memory grows ever dimmer and current form is dispiriting. I don’t know that Coquelin can ever be that player. Elneny has value as a backup, but hardly a player to build around.

    Right now, we probably don’t have two midfielders up to the task asked of them. Formation change then? Ozil wide marginalises one of our two great attacking talents and he probably wouldn’t extend his contract. He could play false 9 I suppose. More likely we keep doing what we’re doing and pray something clicks…

    1. I think you’re mostly spot on with your analysis, but one thing is if someone like Iwobi plays on the wing, he brings some semblance of balance, as he can effectively function as another midfielder, at least when we have possession: he’s great at transitioning the ball into the final third because he’s so assured on the ball, receives it on the half term, and picks his head up when he dribbles. Rosicky was another guy who could play this role from wide left or right, somewhat freeing up Ozil to float around up front and go where he sees the space, and maybe a fit Wilshere could do so too (though I prefer him as a box-to-box in the center), but those players are no longer around. Campbell is also loaned out and the Ox could become more useful in our buildup if he works on that side of his game, but the upshot is that we’re a bit thin on creative wide players right now. Playing 4-2-3-1 with Walcott and (the current version of) the Ox, or Welbeck, or Lucas, or Alexis on the wings, and with Ozil at 10, does make us a bit unbalanced and puts all the pressure on the ‘2’, not just to defend but to create from deep, all the while often facing 3 dedicated central midfielders in the opposing team…

      Another thought: must switching to 4-3-3 marginalize Ozil? I’ve often thought so, but the more teams go this direction with their formation, the more very talented number 10 types prove they can thrive operating in a floating role from the flanks (e.g. Coutinho, though I don’t think he’s anywhere near Ozil in his creativity and tactical understanding of the game). Wenger tried switching to this formation at the beginning of the season before last, and it did seem to marginalize Ozil, but (a) I don’t think our midfield 3 was doing great dominating games and getting the ball up to him, and (b) most of us also thought Alexis couldn’t play as a center forward, but Wenger had faith and now we’ve all been proven wrong.

      In fact, the Alexis experiment is more than just an analogous example: for me, the key to Ozil truly thriving in a 4-3-3 (not just “doing a job,” but playing his best) is a mobile front 3. With all due respect to Giroud, his lack of mobility means that if Ozil was stationed wide of him, he’d be mostly stuck out there, or have to drop deep, since Giroud isn’t moving defenders around, creating gaps in central areas for Ozil to exploit. But with Alexis up there (or, to a lesser extent, Welbz or Lucas), you’ve got a centre forward who is not only in constant motion, but one who both likes to drop deep AND attack from the left hand side. So a front three of Ozil on the left, Alexis as the false 9, and Walcott/Ox on the right (sub in Welbeck or Lucas on either flank, or even up top with Alexis nominally moving back out wide) could flourish, if given time. The main thing would that this would be an incredibly fluid attacking trident, so the “positions” for Ozil and Alexis in particular wouldn’t matter too much. It would also allow us to strengthen our midfield in the absence of Cazorla, picking Xhaka plus two others, without a designated 10, more in the Barca style with one player to the right and another to the left of someone who sits centrally (hey, we might even see the best of Ramsey again!).

      The biggest losers of this formation change could end up not being Ozil but Giroud (but his status as excellent Plan B should now be firmly established, I think) and Iwobi, but I think the youngster could still adapt to become very useful in a central midfield 3 (there’s something of the Iniesta about him), or as a sub option in the front 3, when we need less directness and more possession.

  12. It was coming. He was out for months last season, recovered over the summer, and we immediately played him for 90 minutes in every game.

    This tells me one of three things:
    1) Wenger knows the value of Santi and wants to play him every game. But then why not buy a replacement? Because Santi is irreplaceable. But surely there are players who come close?
    2) Wenger underestimated a player’s injury, again. If I could see it coming, why couldn’t Wenger?
    3) Wenger sees Santi’s availability as a bonus. Thus if he’s fit he plays, but if not then we have another plan. Little evidence of this.

    1. Well put.

      Also, why not have the surgery right away?? Because they were hoping that with injections the problem would fade away. They were hoping this for 6 WEEKS (I think it’s been; can’t remember the exact date but it’s something like that). I’m not saying that it’s not common practice to try other options before sending a player under the knife, or that there was any glaring mistake in medical diagnosis. Maybe any medical department at any club in Europe would have done exactly the same thing and it’s just bad luck. But it’s all SOOOO, Arsenal, so Wenger: Arsene is such a ridiculous optimist; so if there was a chance that Santi could avoid surgery, they were going to take it. I obviously can’t prove this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a different manager would have seen the writing on the wall weeks ago and insisted he get the surgery asap. Instead, we’ve wasted 6 weeks already, roughly half of what he’s going to have to be out for in his recovery from the surgery (something similar happened to Welbeck last year: waited all summer to see if the problem would go away). I love Wenger, but this optimism business when it comes to his squad/players/medical team is one of the most annoying things about the man, something we all know will never change, however much money he decides to spend on transfers.

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