15 January 2014

サヨナラ, Ryo. Sayonara. A sign of Draxlers to come?

Reports suggest that Arsenal are open to the possibility of Ryo Miyaichi leaving the club on a permanent basis. Having failed to crack the starting lineup, having made only five appearances this season for a total of 217 minutes. Given how crowded the midfield is—then again, even in the absences of players like Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Cazorla for extended periods, and the more-recent loss of Walcott—it's apparently been too difficult for Miyaichi to impress Arsène enough to be entrusted with anything but mop-up duty or lesser competitions such as the league cup.

The Smirk, Part Deux?
Last season saw Miyaichi loaned out to Wigan for the season, where he made seven appearances, six of them as substitutions, again failing to make much headway in then-manager Roberto Martinez's squad. Perhaps his brighest stretch came in a 2011-12 loan to Bolton; while playing largely as a right wing, he made 16 appearances, four as substitutions and four times playing a full 90', notching two assists. However, the sparse playing time he's had over the last three years since coming to Arsenal in 2011 suggest that it's time to move on.

The competition in the midfield is just too fierce at the moment, especially for a player as unproven and raw as Miyaichi. Even Lukas Podolski, fresh from injury and deliverer of 16 goals and 13 assists last season, finds himself firmly rooted to the bench despite returning, presumably fresh and well-rested, from a long injury-spell. Apparently, Arsène's concerns over his fitness and training, among other concerns, extend to the point that there are persistent rumors about him leaving the club as well.

Without putting the cart before the horse, it's enough to make me wonder. If we are moving Miyaichi on (and good luck to him, a young player who did his level-best bt simply came at a time when the position was already filled), and if we are looking to ship Podolski out (a more-puzzling one if not entirely new given his poor fitness—regularly subbed off after 70' last year, longer-running questions about dedication), could we be clearing space for a January signing? If it were just Miyaichi, we could attribute it to a simple parting of ways. However, Podolski was an integral part of last season's squad, and to suggest that he might be leave sooner rather than later is enough to wag tongues and raise eyebrows—well, one of them, at least.

He was visibly irked, muttering and shaking his head, when it was Oxlade-Chamberlain and not he who was called on to replace Rosický against Aston Villa, even for as much sense as the move made tactically. Despite his outgoing personality and undeniable bond with Mertesacker and Giroud, as well as his apparent popularity in the dressing room, the uncomfortable fact is that he'll be 29 soon. While this is hardly the twilight of his career, the sun is setting, and unless he gets a chance to change minds and fast, this may be it for the man, at least at Arsenal. By contrast with Miyaichi, he's had his chances and, at times, acquitted himself very well. However, there's writing on the wall. The ship is trimming its sails. His star is fading.

At the risk of letting myself get too easily distracted by brighter, shinier objects, it's enough to make me wonder if in fact a move for Draxler is in the offing. After all, even if Arsène is looking to sign Draxler and convert him to a striker (something he's done with Henry and van Persie), this would take time, and it's unlikely that Draxler could blithely arrive and just slot in to the position. New position, new team, new league. That's one too many variables, even for a player of Draxler's apparent quality and potential. On the other hand, clearing space on the wings to give Draxler a chance to adjust to the Prem and to Arsenal makes a great deal of sense, as it would allow him to adjust to the Prem and to Arsenal while making the occasional cameo at striker—say, against lower-tier opponents? This would keep Giroud fresh for the Champions League (Draxler's cup-tied anyway) and against our rivals for the Prem title.

Balancing this short-term with the longer term, Giroud is 27, and grooming a replacement is a vital priority. Should Draxler come in, whether now or over the summer, he'd likely start training up to be a striker, one who could play off of Giroud in something closer to a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. Then, when the time is right, Draxler could step in as the number-one striker. It's exciting to consider, but at this point it's still all rumor and hearsay. Dare to dream, though. No harm in that, now, is there?