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Yearning to get back in the middle of things

Football returns today amidst the festivities but for Arsenal the game will not be on Boxing Day as tube strike prevented the game from going ahead today. Of the teams ahead of us, 3 of them play later today. Chelsea are up against Fulham, United at home to Wigan and City away to WBA. All winnable games in the favourites.

In the event of those outcomes coming true, we cannot afford to drop points against Wolves tomorrow. Even if the result today goes in our favour, we must still take 3 points from our home game tomorrow. The best way to achieve that would be to put out our best available side. Despite Arsene Wenger wanting to be extra careful with Robin Van Persie, I think the Dutchman should start the Wolves game.

First and foremost, the delay has given the entire team an additional day of rest and everyone should be raring to go. I do realised that there’s 3 games in the space of just 7 days. Secondly, the fixture schedule comes into play. After Wolves, we have QPR at home before a short travel to Craven Cottage. You may have differing ideas but if RvP is to be rested, it should come against QPR.

At least in that case, we could still field in at Fulham. Getting our captain’s service in 2 out of 3 games is an achievable target. Between Wolves and Fulham, there’s 5 days of rest in between, which should be sufficient period for any top player to recover from his exertions. Of the 3 matches, the last one at Fulham is surely the toughest one to get 3 points (on paper at least). Therefore it makes no sense to think about keeping RvP fit and yet play him in 2 games (QPR & Fulham) that has only 1 day of rest in between.

There are options all over the pitch for Wenger to bring in fringe players and give them a game during this period. I doubt we will see what is now our first choice 11 for all 3 games. There will be one or two or more who will sit on the bench for Wolves to ensure they are ready for QPR and then again to prepare for the Fulham game.

Changes always mean sacrificing that little bit of fluidity in our game. The first XI has gelled in the last couple of months and while it’s a shame to be tinkering with a working formula, it is a necessary one. However, given our lack of options in full backs, I was hoping that Wenger take a different route. The predictable part would be for Wenger to stick with his current formation. Perhaps use an experienced player on one side of the full back role and an inexperienced player on the other side. Mixing and matching until these 3 matches are over. Or, he could try something totally different.

In our current injury problem (or crisis if you like), there’s 2 positions which we have a lot of options. That is the centre back (CB) and the defensive midfield (DM) position. Combining those two, we could perhaps attempt to play 3 at the back with 2 midfielders screening in front. It’s one formation which Wenger has never tried, not right from the start anyway. Hear me out.

The 3 at the back come come from any of Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Ignasi Miquel or Sebastien Squillaci. After the Wolves game, there’s also the chance of Johan Djourou returning to full fitness. That’s 3 players to choose from a pool of  6. In the defensive midfield role we have Alex Song, Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong. After that we’ve seen since his arrival, even Mikel Arteta could be considered for that role.

By having 2 DM, there’s actually protection on the flank should we have to deal with the opposing team who has a tricky/pacy winger in their line-up. One could easily drop wide to cover. In another way, one of the CB shift wide to cover and one of the DM could seamlessly slot into the CB role. From another standpoint, one of the CB could also go charging up the field and not fear of being exposed at the back. With 2 screening players, the defensive support will be optimal.

By having this formation, there’s less dependency on the wide attackers to track back and support the defence. Both Gervinho and Theo Walcott will have less burden to carry throughout the game and both would also have more stamina for their primary role of attacking. Thus far this season, both players have to do their fair share of defending to ensure that we’re not exposed. If their contribution to the attacking side is so evident with so much defensive work that needs to be done, imagine the damage they could do with that extra 10 – 15% in their tank.

Having said all that, my best contribution towards any tactical ploy in football comes in a simulated game. I’m sure Wenger has given this modification some thought but was either not convinced by it or just never told us because it was never raised by journalist. Do you think this could work or am I just completely wrong?