After a series of defensive displays that would charitably be described as under par, Arsenal returned a clean sheet in their win over Stoke at the weekend, and seemed a far more composed unit throughout the match.
Part of this was due to the greater solidity that their midfield gave them, with Abou Diaby and MIkel Arteta lining up behind Jack Wilshere for the first time this season. All three players are effective in breaking up opposition possession, and they are also highly adept at keeping the ball themselves.
This was clear from the stats on the day, with Arsenal enjoying 65.5% possession and 63.8% territory. Mikel Arteta completed a staggering 105/116 passes, with Diaby and Wilshere adding 70 and 68 respectively. Glenn Whelan, the top passer on Stoke’s side, completed only 36 out of 47, and Arsenal’s midfield trio contributed many more passes than Stoke’s entire team.
All this added up to a dominant performance from the home team, but it’s worth noting that they only managed to secure three points via a deflected free kick. With that in mind, it’s worth questioning whether removing Cazorla from the side has limited their attacking potential.
Jack Wilshere is an undeniably excellent player, but did he do enough in the advanced role in the midfield to suggest he will keep Cazorla out of the team?
In terms of chances created, Wilshere stood alone at the top of the rankings for the game, laying on five opportunities for his side. Wilshere also completed a superb 38/41 passes in the attacking third, suggesting he has no problem working in tight spaces around the opposition box.
However one thing that the England midfielder did not do was take enough shots, and this is an area of his game where Cazorla clearly has the edge. Whilst the Spaniard has sometimes frustrated with poor finishing this season, he is more a natural goal threat than Wilshere, and Cazorla took three shots to Wilshere’s one despite only playing for just over 20 minutes.
Cazorla is still a more natural choice in the attacking role for Arsenal’s midfield, and it will be interesting to see if he regains his place in their next match. Wenger may elect to start him out on the wing as he did against Swansea in the FA Cup, even though he was not so effective here as through the centre.
Arsene Wenger will clearly be aware of the extra solidity his team showed playing Diaby, Arteta and Wilshere, but he will also be keen to ensure that Arsenal continue to carry as much of a threat as possible going forward. Failing to find that balance has been the bane of their season so far, and they still haven’t quite cracked it.
What's the solution? Where should Cazorla play and who is Arsenal's best midfield three?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald