Competition for places at Arsenal has been at a high intensity for the past year, with a number of surprise first-team breakthroughs in the 2014/15 campaign. Now with the world-class addition of Petr Čech and potentially more recruits in other positions, naming Arsenal’s strongest eleven could become even more exciting this season.
Up until January last season, the only position which lacked sufficient competition was the centre of defence. Before Gabriel’s much needed arrival, the back had the likes of 19-year old Calum Chambers and left-back Nacho Monreal, perform as a make shift centre-back during a period of injury crisis.
Laurent Koscielny’s absence was dearly missed as World Cup winner Per Mertesacker struggled for form. It’s safe to say the German has formed a formidable partnership alongside the Frenchman, and was visibly lost without Koscielny by his side.
Gabriel and Chambers, who Arsene Wenger plans to use more centrally, are expected to step-up this coming season which is likely to see Mertesacker put more under pressure, but in evidence of seasons gone by, the Kos-Mert partnership remains our strongest for now.
Competition amongst our full-backs is also tight. Again, the previous campaign was one of great opportunity for certain players, including young Spaniard Hector Bellerin, who definitely caught the eye with some impressively enthusiastic performances in Mathieu Debuchy’s absence, bagging himself 2 Premier league goals in the process.
You could easily argue that Debuchy’s two lengthy injuries allowed Bellerin to flourish, but there head to head qualities are still interesting to analyse. Debuchy boasts far more aggression and experience in his game, whereas Bellerin definitely quicker and more offensively gifted. The manner in which he scored his goals against Aston Villa and Liverpool is evidence of this.
The left-backs slugged it out more evenly it must be said, as both Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal maintained fitness throughout the season. But when the Spaniard eventually returned to his favoured position after a difficult stint at centre-back, a surprisingly impressive string of performances managed to keep his counterpart on the bench.
Both players have valuable qualities to offer to the side though. It’s Monreal’s much improved and superior defensive qualities, which has seen him deputise at left-back more frequently. His stint at centre-back was definitely a hard but fruitful lesson, which probably grinded the defensive game into him.
The midfield sees 5 or 6 players competing for a regular role in the team, although there are two roles which are very much cemented. Francis Coquelin’s rejuvenated career saw him return to the club after a short spell at Charlton, and cement his status as the team’s first-choice defensive midfielder, ahead of the ageing duo Arteta and Flamini.
Mesut Özil is another player who came to life last season after a 3 month injury lay off. His best performance was probably the FA Cup final, where he was majestic in that number 10 role. People have often targeted the German for criticism since making his high profile switch from Real Madrid two years ago, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s the best no. 10 we’ve got.
The centre of midfield is a far more trickier affair to settle, between Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. It was also a season of rejuvenation for Cazorla after a mediocre 2nd season at the Emirates previously. When Coquelin and Özil both came into the team, Cazorla found himself playing a more deeper role alongside Coquelin, instead of a no. 10 role.
The Spaniard flourished in his more deeper creative position, in the absence of the injured Jack Wilshere. Cazorla’s ability to weave in and out of tight spots and orchestrate play up the other end, had been a signature quality since his arrival three years ago.
Ramsey is also such a great central box to box player, whose energy and athleticism has him continuously ticking over throughout the 90 minutes. He proved his goalscoring qualities the previous season though was struggling with injuries in the past two campaigns.
Although he was strangely used on the right wing in recent months, his best form is produced in the centre, same for Wilshere, who’s very similar to Cazorla. Roy Hogdson has used the Englishman in a deeper lying role for England and to the surprise of many has enjoyed great form from this new position.
Wenger has a luxury of creative midfielders, but he mustn’t be drawn in trying to accommodate each player by playing them out of position. There needs to be a compromise and he needs to accept that there’s not enough room for all of them at once.
In attack, Walcott, Welbeck, Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez and even Akpom are all at Wenger’s disposal. For months though, the focus has very much been on who is Arsenal’s best centre-forward. Up until now, Olivier Giroud has claimed his status as the no.1 striker, who seems to be in direct competition from Welbeck.
Giroud offers height, strength and improved technique on the ball, the latter being a quality Welbeck is yet to be established in.
The Frenchman has also proved to be an accomplished goalscorer when before and after his return from injury, scoring in the match against Everton last August to then scoring on his comeback against Man Utd in November and so on. Welbeck does offer more pace and power to accompany that but his goalscoring instinct must improve this coming season.
Walcott and Sanchez have proved to be established wingers and have even played their trade up front at times for Arsenal, but Wenger is unlikely to use either of them up there too often ahead of Giroud. Sanchez is an obvious inclusion in the team after his 25 goal debut campaign, but the choice between Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain is also tight.
Both Englishmen have frightening pace to pass any opponent but Chambo is the has more trickery and body strength than Walcott. However, Walcott has far more accomplished goalscoring ability, something the Ox like Welbeck must improve in his game. This is where the difference lies; you don’t leave a goalscorer on the bench.
And so here is the strongest XI
Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal
Walcott Giroud Sanchez