Selling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool has restored balance to the Arsenal team.
Arsene Wenger’s determination to cram Chamberlain into the starting eleven was confounding purely for the disruption it caused in the starting eleven.
Although capable of being an attacking threat from a right wing back position, his limitations as a player meant he couldn’t be trusted on the other side of the pitch. As a result, Wenger opted to play Hector Bellerin, who has rarely played on that side, there instead. That then had a further knock-on effect for Sead Kolasinac, who ended up at left centre back or on the bench.
For all the effort it took to get Chamberlain into the starting line-up, it was counter-productive to what Arsenal wanted to do as a team.
The lack of natural width on the left hand side limited Arsenal’s attacking potential, while the shifting of positions unsettled the defence. A back three with two full-backs in it never looked comfortable, while Chamberlain continued to offer next to nothing to the team’s defence.
For all the flashy dribbles and occasional good balls into the box, he largely failed to do the very basic defensive actions such as tracking back or covering for a team-mate.
More often than not, when there’s a player that can’t quite be fit into the team, that player doesn’t play. Managers may try to tinker with things to fit that player in, but common sense usually wins out in the end.
We’ll never know if common sense would have prevailed with Wenger, as Chamberlain forcing his way out of the club made the choice for him. With no Chamberlain to shoehorn into the team, Wenger had to select a more conventional line-up. Bellerin returned to the right of the defence, Kolasinac played on the left as he was brought in to do, and everything suddenly looked better.
It’s only one game but Kolasinac’s performance against Bournemouth yesterday should erase any doubt about what his best position in the team is.
Versatile he may be, his contributions from the left are far too good to play him anywhere else. On the other side, Bellerin doesn’t pose the same threat going forward, but could be a nice counter-weight to the more aggressive Kolasinac by remaining in touch with the back three and picking his moments to go forward.
The pair will receive a stiffer test against Chelsea next weekend, but I feel a bit more confident knowing that we’ll have two players who understand the wing-back role in the team instead of just one.
Chamberlain made an impact from that position, but it always felt precarious, and the last thing we would have wanted going into a big game is a team distorted to accommodate a flawed player.
We already experienced what that was like against Liverpool.