In recent years, the term ‘selection headache’ has mainly meant to Arsène Wenger that he’s had to pick between the lesser of two evils – for example, either the often-calamitous Johan Djourou or the quite frankly disastrous Sebastien Squillaci – but for once he may have a happy problem to deal with.
Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla have made themselves pretty much undroppable in midfield – Arteta has consolidated his position this year with three solid performances after a superb campaign last time around, while Cazorla has displayed all of the qualities Wenger looks for in an attacking midfielder. The question is regarding who will line up as the third member of that three-man midfield.
There are, in fairness, several candidates. Aaron Ramsey would certainly put his name forward, especially now that he’s looking like returning to his old self, while Tomas Rosicky and perhaps Francis Coquelin would also consider themselves competitors for the remaining role.
However, when it comes down to it, the choice for Wenger will most likely be between Abou Diaby and the returning Jack Wilshere. It had seemed like a no-brainer – to most, the frustrating Diaby was simply a stop-gap, keeping Wilshere’s place warm for him, so to speak.
The question is regarding who will line up as the third member of that three-man midfield
Diaby’s first two games of the season didn’t do much to alter that perception, but at Anfield; things changed. Diaby looked confident, imposing and most importantly at home in the role alongside Mikel Arteta, and it seemed as if that midfield trio consisting of the two Spaniards and Diaby was a perfect fit.
With Wilshere returning Wenger will have a decision to make. He may rotate depending on form, fitness and opposition, but there will come a time when he’ll have to choose between Wilshere and Diaby, carefully weighing up the pros and cons.
In fairness, Diaby has only had one good game – it may have been against Liverpool at Anfield, but he’s had good games before and ended up trudging back to the treatment table, or back to on-pitch insignificance. It has appeared that consistency – in terms of playing time and role – is key to Diaby’s form though, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain the standards of his performance last weekend.
The Frenchman has a couple of advantages over Wilshere – firstly that he still has a few more games in the side to make the position his before Wilshere returns, and also that he’ll have been playing alongside Arteta and Cazorla for a while. The young England star, on the other hand, is still out and is yet to line up as the third midfielder in the trio.
He may rotate depending on form, fitness and opposition, but there will come a time when he’ll have to choose between Wilshere and Diaby
But despite Diaby’s advantage there, he still has a fight on his hands to secure the position. Wilshere is the golden boy of this Arsenal, and indeed England, generation, and is seen as the future for club and country. Wenger has often spoken of not wanting to ‘kill’ a young player in the past, and will be more aware than anyone of the magnitude of the talent he has his hands on.
Wenger is a big fan of both Diaby and Wilshere, so it may be that he seeks to accommodate both in the same team. That might be tricky though – neither is particularly defensive minded, with both preferring to attack, playing better with a defensive foil alongside them. Arteta is perfect for that, but neither Wilshere nor Diaby would be suited to that role.
Another option is playing Wilshere on the right – he played there for the academy and impressed, and Wenger has often deployed centre midfielders in wide positions, using Rosicky there occasionally and also toying with playing Ramsey there. He admitted that the ‘three striker’ system doesn’t work against defensively organised teams, and likes using creative players out wide for balance – Yossi Benayoun did this perfectly last term – and Wilshere might fit into that role.
Like Diaby up until this year, Wilshere’s role isn’t quite clear. He’s certainly a midfielder, but whether he’ll be an advanced playmaker at the hub of the team, a box-to-box terrier or a Paul Scholesregista, is unclear.
It may be that he eventually takes Cazorla’s place at the peak of the midfield, with the Spaniard nearing his thirties, but for the moment, that position is taken. Still, it does seem a natural progression, like that of Fabregas, to go from a central midfielder to a playmaker who plays off the striker, despite Wilshere’s tenacity possibly meaning he’s better suited to a more combative role. The number 10 shirt hints towards a future as a playmaker, but that may have only been a showing of faith on Wenger’s part.
It’s certainly a conundrum for Wenger, although he would of course prefer injury not to make the decision for him. The best decision seems unclear now that Diaby is threatening to fulfil his potential, but if anything, the competition might help the midfielders improve as they battle it out for the remaining spot in midfield. It’s certainly better than having no choice but to play Craig Eastmond there.
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