30 January 2014

Thursday Throwdown: Has Everything Changed Already?

This week's Thursday Throwdown is decidedly less Throwdown-y as there isn't a second person here to argue. However, I am keeping the spirit alive by adding to past discussions based on new information. In the last couple of weeks Sam and I debated both Arsenal's needs in the January transfer window and the state of the midfield as players came back from injury. Now, unfortunately, those discussions are somewhat outdated due to our latest injury news: Aaron Ramsey will be out an additional 4-6 weeks due to a newly developed thigh injury. Add in Mathieu Flamini's three match suspension for his straight red card against Southampton and the midfield rotation is even tighter than it was one week ago.

Arsenal will be without Aaron Ramsey's direction in midfield for the foreseeable future.

Make no mistake: Arsenal still have an excellent midfield and if the Gunners were to suffer injuries in any area of the pitch, they would most likely prefer this one. Mikel Arteta is fit for the CDM duty he has taken to over the last two years so a vital piece remains in its proper position. Still, Ramsey was playing so well in that box-to-box role slightly in front of Arteta and it is distressing to have to scramble to replace someone that was doing an excellent job. In fact, Flamini was the preferred choice to fill in for our Welshman so now the net must be cast even wider. Jack Wilshere should be the man for the next three matches at least because despite his positional and defensive deficiencies, no one else in the squad has much experience as part of the deeper lying two in midfield. This is doubly problematic as it removes Wilshere from the attacking midfield rotation, but beggars cannot be choosers at this point.

In a bit of good news, that midfield front three in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 remains largely unchanged, save the lack of Wilshere as an option. The recent starting trio of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, and Serge Gnabry can be trotted out again, with valuable pieces like Lukas Podolski, Tomas Rosicky, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ready to start or come off the bench as well. There is talk of grooming Oxlade-Chamberlain for a spot in the center of the midfield but it is probably too early to begin that experiment in earnest with the difficult run of fixtures upcoming. Thus, the gameday selection and substitutions in midfield will be of utmost importance as the Gunners try to get the most out of their point of strength.

Is Julian Draxler now a necessity for Arsenal?

Right now the majority of transfer buzz is about how Arsenal need to make a move for Julian Draxler in order to fix their midfield issues and while I would love for the club to sign Draxler regardless, the sense of panic overstates any change in need. The young German international is useful to the Gunners because he is a direct dribbling threat from the wing that possesses loads of creativity on the ball. There is also the hope that he can be groomed for the lone striker position in the future, but is also solid enough there in the meantime to spell Olivier Giroud as necessary. Various assessments of his talent notwithstanding, this all remains true regardless of the injury to Ramsey and suspension to Flamini. The acquisition of Draxler would not free up another player to drop back into the box-to-box or defensive midfielder roles, nor should he play either of those roles himself. He would still be an excellent get, but the current developments don't make him any more of a priority.

As for signing players directly for those roles, I would think the only plausible option would be looking for a CDM such as when Arsenal were linked with Luis Gustavo over the summer. We don't know everything about where the perceived development of players will take them in the future, but it is hard to imagine Ramsey moving out of the position he's begun to shine in. Flamini and Arteta can't last for much longer, at least as starters, so again defensive midfield seems to be the likely area to improve, but who is available? Out of all the spurious links that popped up this January, I cannot think of one time the Gunners have been solidly attached to someone who could fill the position. Therefore my guess is that the only action we could see would be a move for Draxler, though Arsene Wenger does such a good job keeping transfers under wraps that a surprise swoop is not impossible. Perhaps not the best news for Arsenal fans, who now find the club behind Manchester City in the race for the league, but it is still the most likely.

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