If every Arsenal player was available for selection tomorrow against Aston Villa and you were in charge (joy!), who would make your team?
Mine would look like this:
It is a team that, by and large, picks itself.
But there is a number of choices that provoke discussion, the first and foremost the exclusion of captain Thomas Vermaelen.
Harsh? Maybe. But man-for-man, pitted against Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, he has not been up to scratch. I posed the question earlier in the season: would Vermaelen have been dropped if he wasn’t the captain? Almost certainly yes, however an injury to Kieran Gibbs, who had made the left-back position his own and the poor performances of André Santos gave the manager an easy out.
Our defence has been a shambles over the past month — conceding a hatful of chances against Manchester United, three goals against Fulham and two more away to Schalke — before the visit of Spurs. Games against Spurs tend to be chaotic affairs and this was no different. We conceded two but Koscielny impressed and Mertesacker recovered from an early mistake to raise his game and in the process record his first goal for the club.
The 2-0 win over Montpellier, our first clean sheet in five games, was the icing on the cake for a defensive partnership that looks balanced and effective. Vermaelen even played well on the left. But would I drop Vermaelen when Gibbs returns? Almost certainly.
Carl Jenkinson might feel hard done-by by his exclusion from the team, yet it is hard to deny Bacary Sagna. He’s been out for sometime but in strong performances at Spurs, where he and Theo Walcott ran the show down the right, and again at home to Montpellier, Sagna showed his class.
It has been brilliant to welcome Jack Wilshere back into the team and nobody will be surprised that he has returned to form so quickly. He is a special player and is obviously enjoying his time with Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, our two best players this season. Jack possesses an amazing blend of talents, the best of which is his decision-making. He chooses the right option each and every time and his return to the team seems to have given Cazorla, who had lost the sheen of new-signing unpredictability, a welcome shot in the arm.
It gives me great delight to put both Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski in this team, if a little less pride to include the aforementioned Walcott.
Giroud has found his feet since being ridiculously written-off by many fans earlier in the season. He lacks pace but his positioning in the box is exquisite and his aerial strength is remarkable. He played a stormer against Fulham, finished sharply against Spurs and provided two assists for Wilshere and Podolski mid-week. I don’t find Giroud to be an overly likeable player, his facial expressions and general demeanor on the pitch is a little — dare I say it, annoying — but as long as he keeps banging in the goals and improving I will care not one jot.
Podolski meanwhile appeared to go off the rails after a bright start at Arsenal. Yet I don’t feel this is a fair assessment. His game is based on two things; hard work and moments of impact. He works his bollocks off for an hour (and then is usually substituted), lacks the fluidity of Cazorla or Wilshere, and then makes his mark. He can create chances but will go quiet for 15 minutes before banging in a shot from long-range or dribbling at a defender. His game is so un-Arsenal it is almost comical yet he is becoming a fan favourite with his approach.
Finally: Walcott. I would not so be lukewarm to Walcott’s terrific — I repeat, terrific — season if it were not so obvious he is going to leave the club at the end of the season. Credit where credit is due though, Walcott has looked much improved after a deserved spell on the bench, showing off some improved dribbling skills and contributing more in our overall play. Fortunately we have a ready-made replacement for Theo in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose desire to make an impact is literally second-to-none in this side and only fails to make this side because his passing is so poor.
Tomorrow we will not be playing Aston Villa with the team shown above. Vermaelen will be at left-back we may see an injection of freshness from someone like The Ox or Gervinho for the injured Walcott. Even so, our opponent lost 5-0 last week to Manchester City and are there for the taking.
Enjoy the game, wherever you might be watching.
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