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I’m on my knees boss, play me central, please

The one position which we all thought to be short in numbers at the start of the season was the striking position. We let one of the world’s best striker go, that is a point that has never been disputed. Circumstances lead to his departure and enough have been said on that front. 37 goals had to be replaced and it was never an easy job.

At Arsenal, the formation in the front 3 is not rigid. Yes, players start at certain position and are expected to generally be within that zone. However, as we’ve seen, players are allowed to switch positions when necessary and when the play calls for it. Gervinho started the season as the central striker but wasn’t always stuck between the two central defenders. He goes into wide areas on occasions to get into the game. That’s when the other player is expected to fill the zone he left behind.

Likewise when Lukas Podolski was the central striker. While he doesn’t go wide as often that Gervinho does, the German tends to drop deeper to influence play. Thus, also opening up the space in the middle for one of the wide attackers to roam into. The one striker whom we have that is more traditional (and playing) is Olivier Giroud. With his physique, heading prowess and ability to hold up the ball, it makes sense for him to stay central and influence the play from there. Even then, his flick-on headers can be pounced onto by any of the wide attackers running in-field.

So why are we hearing of players who are normally in the wider positions, now “coming out and complain” that they want the more central role? We’ve known of Theo Walcott’s desire for the longest of times but has he no benefited by being played out wide? 8 goals from 13 games already this season. Granted, not all of them are from the first whistle onwards but that is a very good goal scoring ratio. Now, Podolski has also given his thoughts on matter and his ideas echoes that of Walcott. His 4 goals from 14 games are not quite as Walcott but the season is still relatively new and there’s plenty of games to notch up more goals.

Giroud himself has contributed 6 goals, him being the only player who has been played in the central role every single time that he has played. That is a figure that is still less than what Walcott has achieved. Fine, if you want to take away the 3 goals from the League Cup, Walcott would still only be one goal less compared to Giroud and all that coming from the wide berth. Incidentally, 5 goals is also the same number as goals that Gervinho has scored, having already had his chance in the middle. Even Marouane Chamakh has contributed 2 goals.

All that combined, our forwards have scored a cumulative amount of 25 goals. That is just 12 shy of the tally of the one striker we let go and we are only in the second week of November. If we apply mathematical projections, our forwards are well on the way to matching or even better that fella’s record from last season. Then again, 3 of the players were also with us last season and if we add their goals into the mix, the number to hit (to match) is 53 goals. Last season Walcott got 11, Chamakh 1 and Gervinho 4. If we take the second premise into consideration, we have already hit 47% of last season’s total. Potentially, there’s another 40+ odd games still to be played this season and we’ve only completed 16 games.

Now, I want to be a little more cautious when approaching points derived from mathematical calculations. Football doesn’t quite work that way. Numbers only provide an indication and there are so many other factors involved. Like the teams we’ve played could be weaker than those we have yet to face. Or the players we have now, could be injured for the other periods of the season. Therefore, what I’m trying to go with today’s piece is to show that indication are there that we could replaced the main goal scorer from last season and that the formation currently employed does not inhibit the players and prevent them from scoring.

In that case, is there another reason for these players to be wanting the central striking role? Perhaps Podolski touched a little of that in his comments after the Shalke game. The quotes taken from the same interview which mentioned his preference to play centrally. He said that on the left, he had to do a lot of defensive work consistently running up and down the field. I don’t think he’s lazy, so that can’t be it.

Why do players want to shirk from defensive duties? No matter how good a player is going forward, if they don’t put in their fair share of defensive work, ultimately the team is the one who suffers. I know some if not all of you, will hate this comparison. Just look at Barcelona. Everyone does their job in pressing and protecting the team. No one avoids from marking opposing players or tracking back to cover the runners. It’s not the glamorous job but it’s one that needs doing. If the best in the world can do it, why can’t we.

That said, I don’t believe Podolski was stating his displeasure at being played wide. He was probably asked where his favourite position is and gave an honest answer. If you ask that to any football fans, you would find that striker is the majority of the answers. Though, it might have been better if he thought about how the quotes would be interpreted in his head, before speaking out. We don’t need another consistent story about how a player hates being wide and want to play centrally.

All said and done, I believe everyone is mentioned above is in their best positions to contribute to the team.

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