04 November 2014

Alexis has earned himself a spot on the bench against Anderlecht.

It may sound at first like heresy, benching our most-prolific, energetic scorer and creator, but hear me out. Yes, he's scored ten goals and notched three assists—five of those goals in his last three appearances—and he's quickly proven himself to be a quicksilver talisman who can turn a match on its head with his attacking elan, but, still, he must be benched. It's for his own good as well as that of the squad itself. We simply can't afford to depend on him to the extent we've come to do thus far, with each appearance increasing his chances of redlining and being ruled out or rendered ineffective. We have too many other attacking options, some of them admittedly a bit rusty, but they should pose more than enough of a threat against the likes of Anderlecht.

More Podolski, please...
Consider Alexis as Mesut Özil revisited. Like Özil, Alexis has gotten off to a brilliant start and has reinvigorated the squad. However, there's a very-real risk that, like Özil, Alexis could fade. It's one thing to perform at this level when England's climate is balmy; it's quite another in December and January when temperatures drop, pitches freeze up, and fixtures accumulate rather than fade away as they do in La Liga. Give Alexis a rest, I say.

What's more, Anderlecht haven't posed much of a threat to this point in Group D, scoring only a pair of goals in three matches, one in their 1-1 draw at Galatasaray and one, admittedly, against us in the first leg. While I'd rather not revisit the tetchy, bum-clenching first 88 minutes of that match, it's worth noticing that the momentum of the match swung in our direcion after the introduction of a few attackers we've otherwise seen little of: Joel Campbell and Lukas Podolski. They've each languished on the bench, leading to anguished if not angry cries for one or both to be played a bit more often, if only to allow them to ply their wares and increase any potential transfer-fees come January.

Podolski has shown time and again his ability to deliver stunning, thunderous shots (if not goals) with that Hammer of Mjölnir he calls his left leg, Twice in the closing minutes against Burnley, he volleyed shots in jaw-dropping (if not decapitating) style, one an amazing ninja-like scissor-step in the 84th minute that sadly was straight at the keeper and t'other a laser-beam that very nearly separated Ramsey's head from his body before perhaps permanently denting the post. It's what he does. It's perhaps all he does, which is why I'd suggest he not start but come in late in the match. Would Arsène agree to make a substitution at around the 70th minute? Worth an ask, I'd say. Podolski doesn't seem able to deliver a full, ninety-minutes, at least not one chock-a-block with effort. He seems to be at his best in 10--to-20 minute bursts, ideally against defenses already run ragged by other, more-industrious types. With all of this in mind, I'd suggest Poldi come on to replace Rosický on the left late in the match.

And that brings us to Joel Campbell, who's much more of an enigma. He's only made a few cameos here and there, the longest one 71 minutes against Southampton in the league cup. Like Alexis, he's a dynamic, lightning-fast attacker who seems to love going directly at a defense. Unlike Alexis, he's apparently not yet earned Arsène's trust. A squad like Anderlecht might give Campbell a chance to do that. His ability to wreak havoc on a defense was on full-display during the World Cup, when he propelled Costa Rica to a stunning group-stage win over the likes of England, Italy, and Uruguay. With the ball at his feet, he's a dervish who drives deep into the defense to create chances for himself and for teammates. If we're to rest Alexis, well, Campbell might be the poor man's imitation. Let him run helter-skelter on the right side and see what he can do to unlock Anderlecht's defense, such as it is. I have a feeling that Campbell is chomping at the proverbial bit to show what he can do, and if it is in fact merely a facsimile of what Alexis has done so far, he could do far worse.

So, if we're agreed that Alexis won't start, and we can't send in Wilshere or Özil, who's to play through the middle? Send in Santi, who's been at his best for us when he's played as CAM. However, his fluffed sitter against Burnley suggests a player bereft of confidence and form. Whereas Alexis needs a break, Cazorla should benefit from a chance to play a more-vital role. With Rosický and Campbell on the wings harassing and hustling, Cazorla should find lots of room to operate. Then, as Anderlecht fade, we bring in the reinforcements: Podolski on the left, Walcott on the right. Each of them needs time on the pitch to refind their form, all the better to divsersify and deepen our attack.

Yes, Alexis has been sexy and scintillating and sensational. However, if we expect that to continue, sadly, we have to relegate him to the bench here and there. If this gives others like Cazorla, Podolski, and Campbell a chance to shine, so much the better.

What do you think? Can we afford to rest Alexis against Anderlecht, or has be proven himself irreplaceable? Share your thoughts in the comments-section below...