14 October 2014

Where's the silver lining in Özil's injury? Take your pick...

At first blush, Özil's injury sounded like it would be just the kind of thing a high-profile player run ragged by club commitments would need—two weeks of solid rest, perhaps extended another week or two in order to rejuvenutate tired legs and weary spirit. When the DFB announced that Özil would be ruled out of action for 10-12 weeks, we at Arsenal naturally cursed our lot in life and vented various levels of fury at Wenger for not bringing Cescy back or otherwise deepening, if not strengthening, the squad. However, whether Wenger had planned to persist in playing Özil wide or returning him to a more-central position (on paper, at least), we do have a plethora of options at our disposal and a softer string of fixtures coming up in which to deploy them.

It's always darkest before the dawn, as the old saying goes, but there's enough of a silver lining to sustain a mixed metaphor. More seriously, whereas an injury to Chambers, Mertesacker, or Welbeck might force us into some awkward mix-and-match line-ups, we don't quite face the same worry when it comes to replacing Özil. I don't believe for a second that we'll be better of without him, even if he hasn't sparkled enough to sate our expectations. His absence will challenge us, but here are a few lads who I'm sure are willing to step up:

  • Jack Wilshere
    Of course, he's already found and earned more time playing in the center, and his impressive performances as a deep-lying playmaker, inspired by his study of Pirlo and Xabi, led England to two wins in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Yes, a 1-0 win over ten-man Estonia is hardly the stuff legends are made of, but it wasn't for lack of trying on Wilshere's part. He had a number of key passes that teammates wasted. If he can continue to learn the discipline needed to stay home instead of bursting forward, he may just have found his niche. He's been one of our most influential (and improved) players thus far, and Özil's absence will ask him to step as a creative force even more. His willingness to spray longer passes through the air would add a vital, counterattacking component to an attack that all too often founders on a series of short, tentative, or overly cute passes. 
  • Santi Cazorla
    Santi's turned into a bit of an enigma, to be honest. Ever since his first season with Arsenal, in which he delivered 12 goals and 14 assists, he seems to have struggled. He had only seven goals and nine assists last season. Forced wide by Özil's arrival (and fatigued, perhaps, by Spain's busy summer), Cazorla hasn't had the same impact that he had when playing as CAM. He may be diminutive, but that hardly hampered his incisiveness. His deft touch with both feet allows him to dribble out of tight spots perhaps better than anyone else in the squad, and that two-footedness is all but wasted on the wing. Along similar lines, Cazorla lacks the pace to play on the wing. He's been at his best as a creative force in the middle, beating defenders off the dribble and threading through-balls behind defenders for pacier teammates to run onto. 
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
    Ox has played a few times through the middle but has spent most of his time with Arsenal on the wings. With the arrival of Alexis, the impending return of Walcott, and the absences of Ramsey and Özil, Ox might find his best chance back in the middle. The wing might make good use of his pace, but he's not going to beat out Walcott (once he's fully fit) or Alexis. His pace, size, and dribbling might suit him better through the middle, and this is also where his best chances are. He's shown that he can adapt to playing a defensive midfielder's role, playing competently and showing that he can shield the defense and get forward, similar to how Ramsey played last season. It also seems to fit Wenger's long-time plan of grooming Ox for a more central role. 
In my dreams, we might see a midfield triangle (in a 4-2-3-1) with Wilshere and Ox at the base and Cazorla at the tip, feeding Alexis, Welbeck, and Walcott on the wings. Until Ramsey and Özil return to fitness, that's an attack that should be strong enough to see off the likes of Hull, Sunderland, and Burnley.

We may be staggering after the raft of injuries we've suffered already, but it's long since become part and parcel of who we are. Arsenal. We don't rebuild. We reload.