Having just watched Arsene Wenger’s press conference before the forthcoming WBA game, one thing that struck me is how honest the Arsenal manager is. One of the questions, inevitably, was about Mesut Ozil’s recent absence, and I am not going to doubt that the Germany international has been suffering from inflammation of the knee.
However, what the assembled journalists seemed afraid to ask (making it the elephant in the room) is: are Arsenal a more solid unit without Ozil? Looking at the clean sheet against Chelsea, you’d have to say the Gunners look in better shape without Ozil. Even the mightly Doncaster Rovers were kept at bay, with David Ospina in goal. Finally, something is going right defensively for Arsenal!
The truth is in the Premier League, you cannot carry passengers. Ozil’s lack of work rate makes him a liability and, despite his undoubted ability, he’d be on the bench if I were Arsenal manager unless he can find more in his locker to help out more defensively.
We’ve all heard of the maxim: ‘you defend from the front’. I wonder what Ozil thinks about that. Does he think that just because he creates chances, he doesn’t need to chase back and get his body behind the ball?
I don’t think the fact that he seems to be running down his contract ahead of a Bosman move next summer helps his motivation. Even if he was the highest earner at the club, Ozil reminds me of a friend of mine who always said: ‘I’m not getting out of bed for less than one thousand pounds.’ That might explain why Ozil is usually asleep defensively in matches, if he feels he’s not getting the going rate for his services.
Against Chelsea, it was a pleasure to see Iwobi and Welbeck chasing back and helping out Xhaka and Ramsey in central midfield. For once, the Gunners were not over-run.
Now that Welbeck is out until after the international break and won’t be involved again until the Watford game, I would be tempted to bring in Walcott on the right and switch Iwobi to the left. There was something incredibly solid about the line-up against Chelsea, so I don’t think Wenger should tinker with it too much.
As for WBA, they will be tough opponents, make no mistake about that. I would be loath to throw all my attackers on in an attempt to rack up a cricket score, as such a policy may well back fire against a manager as astute as Tony Pulis. Luckily, I think Wenger is well aware of the threat posed by the Baggies and will be on his guard. Another clean sheet and a narrow victory will be enough to keep the Gunners on the road to recovery following the embarrassing 4-0 defeat at Anfield.