15 August 2013

Thursday Throwdown: What's Your Starting XI?

In this first edition of the Thursday Throwdown, Bryce Larsen and Shep Mallya discuss the different positions on the pitch and which players should feature as starters for Arsenal.

Bryce Larsen So, let's begin, shall we? Just a normal conversation. We can question one another and so on. First off: goalkeeper. There has been a lot of talk about adding a new goalkeeper this summer, a priority for some. Do you think this is a necessity?

Shep Mallya Arsenal have an interesting goalkeeping situation in that they have two Poles. Szczesny and Fabianski aren't just competing to be the the No. 1 for Arsenal, but also for Poland. I think that's a healthy competition. When one struggles, you give the other an opportunity. There's got to be incentive to succeed or disincentive to get comfortable. For me, a new keeper would be a nice addition, but not a necessity. I think the competition between Shezza and Fab is good for them and good for the team. What do you think?
Wojech Szczesny starts his second year as Arsenal's No. 1.
(Photo courtesy Wonker)

Bryce Larsen I couldn't agree more on that front; good shout about the competition for not one, but two spots (club/country). If we could only sign a couple of players (as it seems increasingly likely), GK is not one I would focus on. If we could afford to bring an experience keeper to mentor Szcz at a decent price, then I would certainly be for it. Fabianski is the senior GK at 28, but he hasn't had enough first team experience to really by the mentor for Szcz in my opinion. I think this is why many were shouting for Cesar. Old, experienced, proven. However, I do recall quite a few errors from him this season, and cannot forget his howler against Bayern while he was at Inter. I think he would be good if we could get him on loan rather than purchase, but would probably still prefer Szcz in most games and enjoy Cesar mentoring him in practices.

Shep Mallya That would be nice if we got him on a short-term deal. The problem that I see is that Cesar is Brazil's No. 1 and would want to play to cement that position

Bryce Larsen Fair point. Almost surprised he kept the position after moving to QPR to be honest. I expect Jefferson (Botafogo) to take over soon, but, as you pointed out, he's the No. 1 and can't see him not starting in goal next World Cup, so first team football is crucial.

Shep Mallya Definitely, but as we mentioned before, there are more pressing needs, and there is definitely a need in that back four.

Bryce Larsen Certainly. I think we can agree on the back 4, though. The group that got us to the crucial UCL spot, Gibbs-Kosc-BFG-Sagna.

Shep Mallya Absolutely.

Bryce Larsen Questions though: Gibbs or Monreal?

Shep Mallya That's an interesting question and one I actually haven't put much thought into. Both are solid and the addition of Nacho seemed to lead Gibbs to raise his game. Right now, I think Gibbs is the better choice *defensively*, but who knows? One error and I'm calling for Nacho. Do you have a preference between the two?

Bryce Larsen Yeah, I think they're quite interchangeable. Come match day I'm happy with either name on the sheet to be fair. I've come to love Gibbs over the years and think he's grown in leaps and bounds, so a bit biased; not to mention he has the pace to get up and down the wings. Which provides better service for Giroud to latch onto? I can't really say. I'm not sure if we saw Monreal enough to make an assessment.

Shep Mallya Yeah, I'm not either. I'm just glad that we have two players that can play the position comfortably. Yes, this is a knock on Santos.

Bryce Larsen Hah, I don't think many will be offended by that statement. Nacho's goal vs Swansea away last year was quite fantastic though. What a match that was... I'll never forget [hesitantly] singing Nacho, Nacho man at the pub.

Shep Mallya Hey, I sang it unabashedly, but anyway, there's probably more going on on the other side of the back four, right?
Big expectations for Laurent Koscielny after a strong 12-13
season. (Photo courtesy Warwick Gastinger)

Bryce Larsen CB pairing is no question right now. I love Vermaelen, but it's clear our best pairing at the moment is BFG and Koscielny. The interesting question, as we have seen in preseason, what do we do with Bacary Sagna and his dodgy hair? It's without question that his best match last term was at CB vs Sunderland in February. Do you see him being paired with someone in the middle at times to allow Jenkinson to be given minutes? Or do you think this has just been tested to add cover?

Shep Mallya Right, how can you break up a centerback pairing that helped Arsenal to have the second best goals against in the league? It's not happening, despite the fact that Vermaelen is both a good and likable player and the club captain. Results are results. Regarding Sagna's pooka shell hair, I believe that his playing centerback is more for cover than anything else. We've already agreed what the best centerback pairing is, but with Vermaelen out and Djourou loaned to Hamburg, there are no options. Sagna played well in that one game, why not try him out in preseason and see what he can do? It gives the coaches a chance to see how he does and it gives Sagna a chance to learn the position better. It makes Sagna more valuable to the team too. Do you think Jenkinson has taken the steps to push Sagna?

Bryce Larsen Agreed. Due to this I'm not sure where more depth is needed - CB or RB. We only really have 3.5 CBs between the starting pair and the injured Vermaelen and technically-a-fullback Sagna, who also picks up a knock from time to time. Last year wasn't one of his best, but coming back from two broken legs and still being vital to the team in the way he was? Outstanding. (one sec while I grab numbers) I certainly think Jenksinon has proved many people wrong after his debut year where he was thrown to the wolves at Old Trafford. I always thought he was solid defensively, but this past year his offensive game and confidence improved tremendously. He started 14 matches this past year, and many of them were against top sides (Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Sp*rs). A bit of baptism by fire, but he showed he was ready to make the jump. I recall many calling for him to retain his spot after the defense started so brightly. Do I think he's ready to be the starter? No, not quite. But Sagna is certainly a great person to learn the position from. Now, I know many have said we need to add to the defense with all the sales and loans, but which position do you think is most needed?

Shep Mallya Unequivocally, centerback. I think we have depth at both the fullback positions to survive minor injuries. Major injuries are always a different story. Using Sagna as cover for centerback creates an issue for me in that what if Sagna gets hurt? You then are left with one right back and no cover at center back until Vermaelen gets back. That makes me uncomfortable.
Santi Cazorla was Arsenal's best player in his first
season in North London. (Photo courtesy Nick Sarebi)

Bryce Larsen Yeah, that's my only concern. I hope we are not so unlucky as to not have multiple players injured at one position, though it wouldn't be the first time. I'm a bit curious to see if Bellerin can make the jump from the academy side. However, we've learned that Ramsey can actually provide decent cover at RB against weaker sides. Just another option. Now for the fun part. The midfield. We've seen lots of debate on this debacle. Who are you starting three *at this moment*?

Shep Mallya I'm not sure who's healthy following this well-timed international break, but my starting 3 would be Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla. Arteta is the rock of the team, the stabilizer. Ramsey is both in form and one of the hardest-working players on the team. If he can do what he did in the preseason against City in games that matter, he might be hard to move out. I picked Cazorla for the attacking mid position. We've discussed this before, but am I right in saying you would put Rosicky there?

Bryce Larsen Rambo was our best player of the preseason for me. Koscielny just as good, mind you. Both picked up just where they left off. Well, Cazorla is my No. 1 for attacking midfielder. Absolute quality there. He can play on the left as we've seen, but we are much more effective with him in the middle. Rosicky has been a huge asset that we often take for granted in the latter part of the past two season; instrumental. I am ecstatic that such a talented player seems to finally be fit after enduring his first preseason for years. Some people were asking for an attacking midfielder earlier this summer, which I cannot fathom the reasoning (aside from the return of Cesc). Surely a true DM is what we need to add and what we've been lacking, right?

Shep Mallya I believe I was in that crowd, but Cesc was my choice of attacking midfielder. A second striker type like Jovetic never really did it for me. I do feel we need more creativity as the attack becomes somewhat stagnant at times, especially when Santi and Rosicky aren't on the pitch together. Hopefully, someone like Wilshere can step up there, but he'll have to step up. The defensive midfielder position is something that we've lacked for some time, but I'm not sure it's a full time position tactically. There are times when the team could use a work horse to win the ball back, but the two box to box midfielder system seems to work against most opponents. Do you feel there needs to be someone more physical in the side?

Bryce Larsen It's certainly something that would help us. I don't think it's required in every match, but I feel against the bigger opponents in the league and in UCL we have been missing it. I absolutely love Arteta and think he's actually one of our best signings in the past five years, despite being on deadline day and supposedly second choice, but I don't think he's consistently productive in big matches. For this reason I have been pushing for the likes of Bender and Gustavo. Gustavo would be tremendous with his aggression, passing, and discipline to cover the back four, something we haven't had since the likes of Gilberto -- who was a CB converted to CDM & is now a CB again in Brazil - which can be replicated with Gustavo. It'd be a fantastic signing, but if it does not happen, I'm ecstatic with the improvement seen in the pairing of Arteta and the tactically sound Ramsey. I just would love to have the ability to rotate players to keep legs fresh, something we fail in comparison to other big clubs.

Shep Mallya Agreed, it's tough to compete for the league, let alone for a Champions League spot when your opponents have unlimited resources both in their squad and when they need to improve. The one characteristic that I'd want from a defensive midfielder is the ability to pass. Arsenal can't have a Gattuso. The team needs a guy that can not only win balls back, but can also turn those interceptions into attacking opportunities Shall we talk about the front three?
Olivier Giroud is awfully handsome.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie MacDonald)

Bryce Larsen We can certainly try. Haha. Giroud. You love him or you hate him. Think he got decent return for first year, but can certainly improve. He was tremendous in preseason and ended it with a lovely goal against City on the weekend. Hope it translates to the league as his confidence seems to have returned. Walcott was one of our best players last year for me. Another great display against City as well with a goal and an absolute peach of a ball for Giroud's goal.

Shep Mallya If you say Podolski...

Bryce Larsen We all know I love Podolski and think he's won over the fans with his presence on social media, but for on the-field production, do you think he is the starter without question?

Shep Mallya This is where I'd play Rosicky, and I think he and Santi can exchange positions within the run of play so long as they cover their defensive duties. The problem with Poldi has never been his scoring. It's always been his effort or his tracking back. I'd love to see Ox get more changes out there too. Rosicky's the pick as it puts the two most creative players on the team on the pitch at the same time.

Bryce Larsen Good shout. Would be curious to see how Cazorla/Rosicky would line-up. I think Podolski certainly has the ability, as we saw vs Spurs and most notably against West Ham in one of the most fun matches of the year. If he can become consistent, he's one of the first names on the teamsheet. I expect him to get the start this weekend, but I expect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get more playing time this year as well. His pace is electrifying and he has quite a decent shot on him as well. It will be interesting to see if Wenger plays him more on the wing or in central mifeild this year. I do admit I fear about depth in attack, however, with the transfers of Gervinho & Arshavin after not bringing anyone in. Curious to see if players such as Gnabry can make the jump. Shep Mallya I'm sure we'd both agreed that this is an area that the team could add a valuable piece, but I'd also say that I'm relieved those players found the exit as I was tired of seeing big money flops getting in the way of promising players like Serge. It was disheartening to see guys who the club invested so much in give so little back. Now, that we've discussed the squad, what's your starting XI for the opener?

Bryce Larsen No surprises really. Szcz; Gibbs-Kosc-BFG-Sagna; Arteta-Ramsey; Podolski-Cazorla-Walcott; Giroud. You?

Shep Mallya Shez; Sagna, BFG, Kos, Gibbs; Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla; Walcott, Giroud, Rosicky

Please share your starting XI in the comments!


  1. Welp, the midfield completely changes with Arteta out so blahhhhhh. Now I would go Szcz, Gibbs-Koscielny-Mertesacker-Sagna, Ramsey-Wilshere, Cazorla(on the left)-Rosicky-Walcott, Giroud.

    1. Completely. Just expecting Wilshere to slide in to be honest. I wouldn't be *shocked* to see OX get a start, but expecting Rambo/Wilshere pivot. Santi should start, provided he isn't affected by traveling to/from Spain's match.

  2. Great article gents! Some of Podolski's performances have been below standard in pre-season, so I have to side with Shep on this one and start Rosicky as CAM + shift Cazorla wide left.