Quick links

Arsenal

What is Arsenal's best midfield line-up?

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's goalscoring cameo against Crystal Palace has given Arsene Wenger food for thought on his preferred options in the middle.

Perhaps Jack Wilshere's intricacy and darting runs from midfield? Or maybe the destructive Aaron Ramsey, breaking late to notch goal after goal. Or what about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with his pace and trickery to break down the most stubborn of defences.

Whichever way you look at it, the latter's contribution in downing Crystal Palace on Sunday must surely pose Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger with a selection dilemma when his surfeit of midfielders comes back to full fitness.

Oxlade-Chamberlain started slowly on Sunday but came to the fore after half-time to finally get the better of Palace's resilient defensive approach as the Gunners finally revelled in their opponents' gradual fatigue.

But the win, as well as sending Arsenal back to the Premier League summit, also opened up a can of worms in the process. Wilshere and Ramsey's respective injuries have coincided with the first-team return of Oxlade-Chamberlain who did everything in his powers to seize his chance on Sunday. 

And he could not have done much more in his attempts to impress Wenger as he seeks to find a slot amidst a carousel of midfield talent.

When you factor into the debate Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott's long-term injuries and Gedion Zelalem and Ryo Miyaichi being only on the fringes of the squad, Wenger is left with nine to choose from. 10, if you add in Lukas Podolski, but the German will most likely provide striking deputy to the overworked Olivier Giroud in the rest of this season.

That Wenger has to disappoint four of his midfield cavalry each week epitomises the embarrassment of riches on offer to the Frenchman in this particular area of the pitch. Mikel Arteta is essentially a shoe-in for one of the two double pivot vacancies but the other provides Wenger with numerous options.

Ramsey, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky can all function from the deep position but Ramsey's output in the first half of the season and desire to support in both areas of the field marks him out as the leading candidate.

One of the slights aimed at Arsenal's midfield in recent seasons has been a lack of protection for the defence but the duo of Arteta and Ramsey offers technically astute individuals who are just as capable of thwarting the threat of the counter attack, illustrated by the Welshman's role as the second-highest tackler, after Crystal Palace's Joel Ward, prior to his setback.

With Özil and Cazorla the schemers in the attacking triumvirate, their remains one opening after Walcott's devastating knee ligament injury.

There have been suggestions, at least externally, that Özil is undeserving of his place in the team. But his eight assists - the second-highest in the division - suggests otherwise. Similarly, Cazorla's recent renaissance - three goals and an assist in his last three league outings - ensure the two creators-in-chief will be key in helping Arsenal to a first Premier League crown since 2004.

But the right-wing spot remains open to debate. Serge Gnabry's breakthrough campaign will act as encouragement to Wenger that he has what it takes to step up and be counted but, equally, as the title chase approaches its crux, the experience of Tomas Rosicky could be paramount.

The experimentation of Wilshere and Ramsey on the flanks was ultimately not a successful one while Oxlade-Chamberlain must continue to feel his way back from an injury which threatened to curtail his rapid development.

The counter-argument to Rosicky's presence is how narrow play becomes but, given the Gunners have scored just three first-half goals in their last 10 matches, the idea of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry acting as impact subs certainly holds enormous appeal.

Wenger has plenty of choices to make, and plenty of personnel from which to form them on. No matter how you envisage the midfield five, the Frenchman may feel he finally has the midfield resources to bring home a previously elusive league title.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

Register for ARSENAL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch