Keep, Sell, or Loan, Part II: The Muddied Midfield
Before everything went to hell for Arsenal, we chatted about the merits of the club’s defenders and goalkeepers — mainly to decide whether or not their tenure in London should continue. For the defending lot, the decisions were easier, perhaps even cut and dry. As of April 18th, following that painful 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, Arsenal have allowed just 34 goals in 2015-2016 — good for 5th in the Premiership behind United, City, Leicester, and Spurs. While Per Mertesacker has been certainly polarizing, there’s little debate that Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal, and Hector Bellerin help set up the Arsenal defense for years to come.
After that, however, things get a bit hairy. As we move up the pitch, there are plenty of differing opinions out there, so it might be important to set some ground rules and foundations for the coming picks. Not without controversy, much of these decisions come down to whether or not Arsene Wenger returns to scour the sidelines. At YAMA, we are neither Arsene Knows Best nor on the Wenger Out Bandwagon, written as AKB or WOB from here on out — but it certainly appears as if the board is ready, and deservedly so, to allow the Frenchman to stay for as long as he pleases.
So, with that in mind, let’s tackle that oft-injured, yet still muddied midfield to play another round of Keep, Sell, or Loan.
Tomas Rosicky, Keep:
Hear me out here — this is mostly an emotional attachment that I’m not ready to let go, but I don’t think Wenger is either. Although Rosicky could make a killing in the MLS or back home in the Czech Republic, I would imagine that he has unfinished business at Arsenal. Undoubtedly, Rosicky’s pace can change an Arsenal attack in an instant and he’d continue to serve as a great rotation player for the FA and League competitions.
He’s hardly played in 2015-2016, so if he wants back in and Wenger does too, there’s no reason why Little Mozart shouldn’t get his well-deserved testimonial.
Jack Wilshere, Keep:
Similarly to Rosicky, Jack Wilshere has long been one of Wenger’s pet projects through the years and for good reason. Arsenal seem to be far more direct with Wilshere behind the ball and he’s one of the few midfielders with the ability to beat opposition directly and in one-on-one opportunities. When he’s healthy, he’s the best English midfielder by far and Wilshere should receive an invitation to Euros on merit alone.
Besides, if you think Wenger is giving up on Jack at this point, I’ve got some bad news for you.
Mikel Arteta, ???:
Is Mikel Arteta even on the First Team anymore? Truth be told, it looks as if he’s been fully fit for sometime, yet there is no news about the multi-lingual captain. At this point, it’s highly unlikely that he returns as a player for any club, but with the rumors swirling about a potential coup for Manchester City’s new hire, and friend, Pep Guardiola, Wenger will have to commit to Arteta and his potential on the sidelines sooner rather than later.
Someday, Wenger and Arsenal will part ways, but until then, any thoughts about Thierry Henry, Steve Bould, or Arteta taking over the managing duties seem like far away wish fulfillment.
Mathieu Flamini, Keep:
Listen, it’s stupid, I’m well-aware — but if it keeps Mesut Ozil happy, we can should keep Flamini for as long as he pleases. So long as we keep him far, far away from the Premiership and Champions League, Flamini, ultimately, does less harm than many believe. Besides, with his billion dollar idea on the brink of blowing up, ousting the club’s closest match for a sugar daddy seems short-sighted.
Again, just to be clear, this is an absolute non-football decision — it will likely get me slated, but nonetheless…
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Loan:
Santi Cazorla, Keep:
At the time of Santi Cazorla’s injury in late November, Arsenal were just 2 points off the top of the table. Now, they are a staggering 13 points behind. I’ve boiled a complicated issue down to bare bones, absolutely — but is it entirely coincidental? I don’t think so.
Arsenal sorely miss his ability to pass and dribble out of their defending third of the pitch. When you hear Arsene speak about playing the beautiful game, that is wholly possible thanks to Cazorla and, without him, they’re left with just Mesut Ozil to create the best opportunities.
Mesut Ozil, Keep:
Speaking of which — must I say anything at all?
With Ozil, Arsenal is one of the best attacking sides in the world, undoubtedly. Should he leave, Arsenal would likely go through a transformation not dissimilar to the aftermath of Robin van Persie’s departure in 2012. With Ozil’s assist mark teetering on the edge of Henry’s Premiership record, he’s transformed an already beautifully attacking side, even if those around him don’t always finish his chances. Look, if you want Ozil to leave or are some of the manic few out there that believe Arsenal don’t deserve him, you’re a lost cause anyways.
Ozil is the oil that keeps Arsenal cruising along and, hopefully, will be the man in charge for the remainder of his career.
Alexis Sanchez, Keep:
The second half of Arsenal’s dynamic duo has, undeniably, had a rougher go in year two, but his skills are still transcendent. Although Sanchez is prone to running himself ragged or through injury, he’s been a workhorse for Arsenal since his arrival from Barcelona in 2014. Unfortunately, even casual fans can see his affinity for cutting onto his right foot and clubs have locked down on the nifty Sanchez as of late.
Since Wenger moved Sanchez back to the right side, he’s fared much better — but even with those spots of difficulty, he’s been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers. Like Ozil, Sanchez is player worth building around and with rumors of a new contract swirling, let’s hope he sticks around.
Francis Coquelin, Keep:
Another no-brainer as far as YAMA is concerned, Francis Coquelin has been one of Arsenal’s most invaluable players since his desperation loan recall last year. With Arteta and Flamini either incapacitated or missing out for disciplinary reasons, Coquelin changed everything for Arsenal in their defensive midfielder role. The club has long searched for a destroyer like Patrick Vieira in the middle of the pitch and his revelation was the story of 2015.
Although he’s still prone to miserable, horrible, and game-changing tackles (see: Tottenham), Coquelin’s ball-stopping abilities alongside Aaron Ramsey and Cazorla in the middle have added an extra dimension to the club’s fluidity.
Joel Campbell, Sell:
Check my tweets — there has been no bigger driver of the Joel Campbell bandwagon, starting during his euphoric rise in the 2014 World Cup. His work rate and vision actually helped Arsenal right the ship during the winter months, but he’s now, for some indiscernible reason, behind everybody in the pecking order, even Theo Walcott. For as long as he’s been with Arsenal, Campbell has struggled to get consistent time on the pitch — injuries, of course, forced him in and he answered the call. Now? Many would agree that he’s earned far more opportunities than he’s currently getting.
As seen with Coquelin, Elneny, and Iwobi, when you perform under Wenger, you will be rewarded — but with Campbell, that’s been invisible. Can somebody please point me towards Campbell’s poor stretch of games? Why has the Costa Rican been moved to the back of the line after so many wonderful performances? Perhaps Wenger feels obligated to his expensive per-week earners, but I’d feel pretty frustrated if I were Campbell.
With no shortage of players in front of him, will Wenger finally put this saga to rest? For his sake, hopefully Campbell can get an opportunity for first-team football, even if it’s not with Arsenal.
Mohamed Elneny, Keep:
If Arsenal were winning right now, Wenger would be unanimously praised for his shrewd piece of business in securing the talents of the Egyptian. After his January move from Basel, many of us clamored for Elneny, especially so as Flamini was causing chaos during Coquelin’s all-important absence. Boy, once he got onto the pitch, however, he’s reveled in the role and looked completely at home within the Arsenal strategy and formation.
Elneny has looked comfortable, confident, and hardly gives possession away. In fact, since Coquelin’s return (and Ramsey’s injury), Wenger has been unable to unseat the new boy, instead opting for the double defensive midfielder pivot. Since Arsenal only paid about £7 million pounds for the 23 year-old, he looks to be a staple in the side for the foreseeable future.
Theo Walcott, Sell:
This isn’t exactly an unpopular opinion in the Arsenal fanbase these days, but is it the right one? All summer, we heard about Theo Walcott’s desire to be the club’s main striker — today? He’s glued to the bench behind teenager Alex Iwobi and an injured-until-February Danny Welbeck, it’s hard to view this campaign as anything but another failure. Of course, Wenger will have trouble letting go of the English mainstay, but with Walcott in danger of missing out on Euro 2016, it may be time to cut the cord.
As Sanchez typically plays 85+ minutes when healthy, one of the two wing positions are always filled. And unless Wenger wants to keep Walcott around to rotate with Campbell, Iwobi, Welbeck, Wilshere, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Olivier Giroud, it may make sense to cash in on the 27 year-old while he still has value. If Wenger keeps Walcott, I certainly can’t fault him, but time is running out for one of Arsenal’s most-well paid after too many poor touches and even worse giveaways.
Aaron Ramsey, Keep:
Deep down, you knew we’d end with these two — it only makes sense. Like Mertesacker, Walcott and Ramsey are most definitely polarizing, somewhere between great and not good enough with glimpses of legendary moments mixed in. First and foremost, let’s be clear: Ramsey’s 2013-2014 was remarkable and his 16 goal mark will likely be his career-high, but, since then, it’s been rough going for the Welshman. Unable to dodge injury, Ramsey has struggled to build on that tremendous campaign two years ago, although his heart still seems set on playing for a Spanish powerhouse.
His ego can be deflating at times, but there are few midfielders that put in a more reliable defensive shift than Ramsey. His ability to track into the defensive third and then build from the back works extremely well alongside Cazorla and Coquelin, only then ruined by his dire decision-making and finishing as of late in front of goal. Ramsey, curiously, seems to be selfish at all the wrong times and then, in turn, passes up some of the most unbelievably open shots as well — it is unexplainable. No matter how you slice it, however, Ramsey’s value is now incredibly low, so keeping him through Euros and seeing how he does with a revamped midfield in 2016-2017 seems like a reasonable bet.
What’s your opinion? Who of the Midfielders should Arsenal keep around for 2016-2017? Next, we’ll tackle the Forwards and the most outstanding members of the Youth Squad!