03 October 2013

Who needs a striker with this marauding midfield?

We don't need another striker to support or compete with Olivier Giroud. He's doing quite well for himself, thank you very much, but, more importantly, we'll soon see a few players return to fitness. For as strong as we've started, it shouldn't come as a surprise as the early fixtures favor us a bit. Napoli was arguably our sternest test, and we passed with flying colors, but there's quite a gauntlet still to run. It's therefore more than a bit exciting to think that, with the returns of players like Santi Cazorla, Tomáš Rosický, Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mikel Arteta; the continued bedding-in of Matthieu Flamini, Serge Gnabry, and Mesut Özil; and the re-emergences of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, we might even be looking to build on this early run of form to create something truly special.

The one area of weakness, such as it is, would appear to be that center-forward spot. Giroud is off to a fine start, but, should he suffer a knock, we might have to throw on the greenhorn Yaya Sanogo (or play Podolski or Walcott through the center). None of these options inspire much confidence, certainly not in the long run. as each forces players to do more than they're capable of. We have yet to see much of anything from Sanogo, thanks to his injury, and it's unlikely that he'll dazzle when he does return. Playing Podolski or Walcott in the center is a strategy that is at least tried, if not true. Given the lack of genuine options, at least until January, there is one solution on offer that might just make us all forget the shortage of options at the top of the attack.

I'm speaking, of course, of our embarrassment of riches in the midfield. Already at our disposal, we have Flamini, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Gnabry, Özil, and Rosický. That's just a listing of who's fit. To that list we'll soon be adding Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski, and the Ox. Admitting that certain players are better at some things than others, that's eleven men who could rotate through six spots. Should Giroud lose his form or suffer an injury, we could send out as many as eleven midfielders who could conceivably flow through any number of positions, committing to their preferences and skill-sets. Ramsey, Arteta, and Flamini, while focusing on the double-pivot in front of the defense, could bomb forward as needed. Wilshere, Gnabry, Özil, Rosický, Cazorla, Ox, Walcott, and Podolski might then roam as they see fit.

It's not as far-fetched as it may seem. For example, Spain's national team has, at times, deployed an attack that features midfielders exclusively, and this plays to the strengths and form of the players they have available. Torres and Villa have had their moments, it's true, but given the choice between them or, say, Fabregas through the middle, it's hard to argue against Fabregas.

We could do worse, therefore, than to field six midfielders without an out-and-out striker. As much as we may fret over Giroud's ability to sustain his current form over the long term, we have players who can still strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. With a midfield rotation of Arteta, Ramsey, and Flamini at its base, and with some combination of Wilshere, Gnabry, Özil, Rosický, Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski, and the Ox on the attack, there are few squads who could stop us. In fact, for as good as he's been to date, Giroud might in some ways impede our attack. As a focal point, he lacks pace. Without him, we might even see a more-fluid, tiki-taka style in which six (or more) technically-gifted and fleet-of-foot footballers flummox and then eviscerate opposing defenses:

  • Defender #1: where's Özil?
  • Defender #2: I thought you were marking him!
  • Defender #1: I was, but he dropped back, so I picked up Rosický!
  • Defender #3: What? I'm tracking Rosický!
  • Defender #2: What? He's playing down our right side and you're our right-back—aren't you? We're getting pulled out of shape!
  • Defender #4: I'm lost! I was tracking Cazorla on our right, but now he's on the opposite side. Should I follow him or stay home?
  • Keeper: Too late. They scored while you guys were getting sorted. Thanks for nothing.
And so on. We're hardly a "total football" club by any stretch of the imagination, but we do have a number of players who can fill a wide variety of roles. Heck, we even have a few defenders versatile enough to play in more-forward roles should the occasion permit. Vermaelen's name has been bandied about, for example, as a defensive midfielder, such is his willingness to bomb forward. It's not for nothing that we've seen goals already from Gibbs, Mertesacker, and Sagna; or that Koscielny netted against Newcastle to secure our 4th place finish last year (and almost did so again against Napoli).

For as much as we talk about positions and squad-depth, then, it's worth remembering that, when healthy, we can field a starting XI that can instill fear in opposing defenses, dominate possession, play beautiful football, and win matches. Come January, of course, it might be nice to see us add another striker to support and compete with Giroud. Until then, I rather like the idea of an amoeba-esque attack, with any number of midfielders marauding around the pitch. It takes a certain amount of communication, of course, to insure that defensive responsibilities are attended to, but the attacking possibilities seem limitless. 

We could do worse than to rest Giroud on Sunday against West Brom. Befuddling the Baggies with an (apparently) amorphous midfield might just see us nab our 13th straight away-win, a club record as far as I can figure. 

Right. We have a fair few days before that match with West Brom. There's apparently some footballing of some sort on Thursday night, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is...whatever. If it was important, I'm sure I'd remember what it is. So it goes. Before you go, I'd like to thank you for visiting and invite you to vote in the Football Blogging Awards, in which Woolwich 1886 is up for a best new blog. You can click here to vote via twitter or here to receive an email ballot. Thanks!