Saturday’s 3-0 demolition of West Ham was impressive for a variety of reasons, prominent of which was the way in which it highlighted the emergence of a budding partnership between Arsenal’s trio of Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil. The trio combined on numerous occasions, and were involved in flowing moves that led to all three goals scored by Arsène Wenger’s side.
It was particularly gratifying to see Özil and Ramsey rekindle some of the chemistry that had been seen fleetingly at the start of last season, but had been strangely absent ever since. Özil seems to thrive on having willing runners around him and Ramsey’s readiness to continually drive though the heart of the West Ham midfield and defence enabled him to play intricate little passes to the Welshman, sometimes combining solely with him, at others utilising Giroud as a foil to play wall passes and then bring Ramsey into play. The result was that even though West Ham initially put up stiff resistance, piling men behind the ball and staying organised to deny the Gunners time and space between the lines, they were ultimately undone when one such intricate move led to Olivier Giroud firing in the first of Arsenal’s three brilliantly orchestrated team goals of the afternoon.
In turning in a performance that was probably second only to Olivier Giroud’s man-of-the-match display, Aaron Ramsey made a strong case for inclusion from the start of Arsenal’s crucial Champion’s league decider against Monaco. Following from that showing, the dilemma facing the Arsenal manager is whether he made a strong enough case to keep Santi Cazorla, arguably Arsenal’s player of the season on the bench for Tuesday’s encounter. Considering that Arsenal have a mountain to climb in the second leg and will have to approach the game with the emphasis clearly on all out attack, the option of shoe-horning both players into the starting line-up does not exist, except perhaps if this is to be at Özil’s expense. The German’s contribution however, was integral to Ramsey’s performance and his ability to pick apart stubborn defences with a combination of quick, incisive passing and clever movement, will be sorely needed at the Stade Louis II, so it’s difficult to see how Wenger can afford to leave him out.
Perhaps another alternative could be to start Ramsey at the expense of Francis Coquelin. This could involve operating with a 4-3-3 encompassing Cazorla at the base of midfield, with Ramsey and Özil continuing their brilliant partnership in the more forward midfield positions, whilst utilising a front three of Giroud, Welbeck and Alexis Sánchez. This idea is so left-field however, that it barely bears considering as it will leave the Gunners too vulnerable to the kind of counter-attacking ruthlessness that Monaco showed themselves more than capable off during the first leg three weeks ago.
In the end, the best option may be to keep the Welshman on the bench at the start and go with a 4-3-3 comprising of Coquelin, Cazorla and Özil in midfield. If Arsenal are still chasing the game in the second half, he can then be brought on, possibly at the expense of Coquelin when the game is at the stage where the Gunners have to gamble.
In the final analysis, it remains highly improbable that the Gunners can overturn the deficit suffered in the first leg; Improbable, but not impossible. Recent seasons have seen Arsenal work near miracles in almost coming back from setbacks in the first leg of this competition to almost eliminate AC Milan and Bayern Munich. Just like those encounters, however, any rearguard action this time is likely to be too little, too late.
What is of the utmost importance however, is that Wenger’s charges go down in a blaze of glory attempting to secure what will be a mind-boggling, historical reverse, if they can succeed in pulling it off. Even in the likely event that they don’t succeed, a good performance on Tuesday night may help in providing a fillip to ensuring that the Gunners finish the season on a high, securing their top four status once again and maybe, just maybe winning a second consecutive FA Cup trophy.